On March 16, 2022

Across the state, Vermonters find ways to support Ukraine

By Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

Larissa and Jim Haas, now the owners of Rise Up Bakery in Barre, bake bread in their wood-fired oven — focaccia and sourdough and earthy rye. The couple met in Ukraine and started making bread in Larissa’s home there. Since 2018, Larissa and Jim have sold fresh bread in Vermont from a window of the brick bakery, attracting regulars like Sonya Spaulding, who buys her week’s loaves every Thursday.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and knowing the Haases’ Ukrainian roots, Spaulding asked how she could help.

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Larissa and Spaulding decided on a fundraiser. “We’ll raise money and go buy the things that are really essential for people,” Spaulding said.

Started five days ago, the Gofundme has already raised over $6,200. Larissa wants to use the money to buy clothes, food and first aid materials, distributing them through her connections in Ukraine.

Across the state, Vermonters are figuring out ways to support Ukraine as Russia continues to invade.

“People know us, and they trust us,” Larissa said of her customers. “It was a heartwarming response from the community.”

When the invasion began, Larissa scrambled to figure out where family members were, and if they were safe. “I was first very busy trying to understand where my mother was. And she’s in Poland at the moment; she fled.”

Larissa called it a “stroke of luck” that her son happened to be out of the country when the invasion began.

“It’s just too stressful and difficult,” she said. “Jim and I, we’re just working together. Everything we do is just the two of us.”

The aid menu

To the south, in the shadow of Mount Ascutney, the folks at Brownsville Butcher and Pantry are using food to build empathy and raise money for Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian crisis has impacted our lives in many ways emotionally, and some of us have family connections to the region,” said owner and chef Peter Varkonyi.

Throughout the pandemic, the grocery and cafe has hosted “supper clubs,” themed takeout meals to support a local charity or cause.

This Saturday, $35 of each $65 two-person meal will go to the World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit providing meals to Ukrainians.

Varkonyi, who is Hungarian, and the shop’s baker, who is Polish and Russian, and a Ukrainian community member devised a Ukrainian-themed menu for the fundraiser.

“What we identified was that all of us cook the same things; we just kind of call them different names,” Varkonyi said.

The menu includes banosh, a corn porridge with pork cracklings; holubtsi, which is buckwheat and rice-filled cabbage leaves braised in tomato and dill; and bigos, a smoked beet, pork sausage and sauerkraut stew with potato and caraway-filled varenyky dumplings among other offerings.

“We try our best in our own little way, and as insignificant at times as we feel, to try and be respectful of each other and in the food that we make,” Varkonyi said.

Community effort

In nearby Ludlow, the Rotary Club has organized a similar food-based fundraiser.

George Thomson, working with the United Church in Ludlow as well as the Rotary Club, is helping coordinate a $15 lasagna dinner set for March 19 to raise money for Ukraine.

Local businesses rallied to donate time and food to support the effort, Thomson said.

Black River Produce will donate produce, students at River Valley Technical Center will bake bread, Vermont Family Farms in North Springfield is donating meat, and the Okemo Valley Women’s Club is making dessert, Thomson said.  “What can we do? We want to do something, but don’t know what to do. And so, we came up with this idea,” Thomson said.

The Rotary Club plans to donate the proceeds from the event to Polish rotary clubs organizing aid to Ukrainian refugees.

On the mountain

Although warming temperatures are quickly ending the ski season, Magic Mountain in Londonderry donated $10 from every lift ticket sold last weekend to support Ukraine.

“We’ve raised close to $10,000, and so that check will be going to Save the Children,” said Geoff Hatheway, president of the mountain.

The nonprofit Save the Children is working to provide food, water and other aid to families in Ukraine.

Hatheway said the mountain wanted to do what it could to help those affected by the Russian war before the ski season came to a close and Magic Mountain had fewer visitors.

“It hasn’t been, you know, a blockbuster winter,” he said. “This was just a small part of being responsible citizens of the world.

“We’re not afraid to speak out and do something on, maybe a local, small scale, but something that is important globally.”

Before the mountain opened Saturday, the ski patrol dyed sections of snow blue and yellow — the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

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