The value of immigrants and volunteers across our communities

by Maritime
Categories: 2019, Events, News Archive
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A story of service and gratitude – a series of stories about mental health in community

A successful business man from Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia in Russia, Mikhail came to Canada 22 years ago. The past nine of those years, he has been graciously volunteering at the Halifax Centre of Hope. From Monday to Saturday of each week, Mikhail picks up food donations and purchases food for the kitchen at the Centre of Hope, which provides 800 meals each week to those in need. He also cleverly purchases food on a tight budget, to supplement the donations for food bank distribution, which takes place two days each week. It’s tough to catch him for any length of time, he’s so busy serving.

Mikhail enjoys contributing his time and talents in his community. He shares how he likes the work of The Salvation Army (TSA), which as a socialist, he is able to get behind. His personal story is one that involved receiving support from TSA in a time of need. Mikhail is one of many volunteers who benefited from TSA; he decided to give back with gratitude for what was received. He says, “I was one of those people who needed help; The Salvation Army helped me so much in my life.”

Working as an Engineer in the Soviet Airspace industry, managing 18 engineers, Mikhail thrived in his career until the end of the cold war — the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). As a result of the financial crisis that ensued, he got creative and became an entrepreneur selling frozen fish to a number of countries. Mikhail shares how he loved this work. Unfortunately, the financial crisis of 1998 in Russia created another problem for Mikhail, his friends and colleagues, which affected their mental health – He calls it, “An invisible tragedy.”

“It was pure curiosity that led me to Canada,” says Mikhail. “Canada was promised as one of the best countries in the world.” Mikhail brought his former wife and two of his children here who followed his footsteps, studying engineering at Dalhousie University. His other son is a journalist in Moscow and his daughter lives in Australia, working for the government.

Employing his entrepreneurial skills in Canada, Mikhail and some of his colleagues opened an Eastern European Food Store called Petrushka in the old Brewery Market in Halifax. Mikhail enjoyed procuring and selling Slovenia, Ukraine, and Russian foods to locals. He and his wife divorced, he had a serious surgery, and finally, the store had to be closed making this a very painful time for him. Not long after this, he discovered TSA, spent some time at the Centre of Hope as a client and it was there where he repaired his life.

Mikhail describes how being a part of the programming offered by TSA enhanced his mental health. “It gave me a sense of life; I needed a little help at time. He adds, “I have never been so rich as I am now; I feel useful to society when I’m volunteering and it helps me stay young.”

As one of the many volunteers who contributes to TSA’s vital programs and services, we celebrate his work and the fact that he received the support he needed to move forward after such significant trial and loss in his life. “Mikhail’s valuable ideas, energy, commitment and his skills to save money and be efficient with his work are an asset to the Centre of Hope’s programs for which we are very grateful,” says Major Judy Vincent.