DoubleTree Inn welcomes Ukrainian refugees

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HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WHEC) — A special celebration was held Thursday night for more than 80 newly arrived Ukrainian families that have left their war-torn homeland and are now calling Western New York home.

It’s taking place at the DoubleTree Hotel on Jefferson Road in Henrietta.

Most of the families attending have been in America for a couple of weeks now, but they arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and donations have poured in to help them resettle and get back on their feet again.

Hotel staff and volunteers have been busy for the past week setting up for the big event. Besides donated food, clothes, toys and some houseware items these families will also meet with their host families, who have signed up to provide these Ukrainians with a place to stay. While some will remain in the Rochester area, others will move to the Buffalo area with their hosts.

Shane Smith, a born and bred Rochesterian now living in San Diego helped organize this part of these families’ relocation journeys with his grassroots organization, Cutting the Red.

"I can’t think of anything more important that I’d rather be doing, and committing my life to it," Shane said. "I know that my wife feels the same way. We are together on this. We have committed ourselves to it. We are all in."

One of the first Ukrainians Smith met upon their arrival was Svilana Gumian and her family. She talked to News10NBC through her interpreter.

"They came with three kids," she said. "The youngest one is 6 months and they were nervous. Different country. Different culture, the language. So they didn’t know how people are going to accept them."

Shane’s wife, Kelly, also serves a role at Cutting the Red, offering a friendly face to those coming here experiencing the trauma back home.

"To look at them, and say you’re not alone, we’ve got this with you, we’re your family, and there’s a group of people that are going to surround you," Kelly said.

Getting these families to the Rochester area was the work of Joanne Stefan, a flight attendant. She not only booked all their tickets, she shelled out more than $16,000 out of her own pocket to pay for the tickets.

"That’s what I need to do because I’ve been taken care of very well with my airline financially so I’ve been there a long time, 39 years," Stefan said. "So I thought that’s what mom would want."

Front Desk Manager Jessica Awad told us the outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous since these families need all the help they can get.

"If we’re able to help in the smallest way, literally it can be just canned food, I know that’s everything to them, and we’re all coming together as one big family. that’s just like the biggest thing," Awad said.

Several local restaurants provided the food for Thursday night’s dinner.

Thanks to the overwhelming support, Cutting the Red is no longer taking clothing donations. Click here to find out more ways to contribute.