Dinner at Bella Italia to benefit Ukraine charities

Event to provide a connection with people in need

Sequim resident Mariia Bush, a Ukranian American, watched with horror and sorrow as Russia invaded Ukraine.

She described complicated feelings that include fear, pain, guilt and also pride in the courage and valor of the Ukranian people.

Grief this deep and widespread demands action, but what can a person do from so far away?

Two weeks later, Neil Conklin, owner of the Bella Italia restaurant in Port Angeles, approached Bush with the idea of putting together a benefit to raise money for charities aiding Ukrainians. It was an idea that could involve many local people who also wished to do something.

“It was very thoughtful of him,” Bush said.

“I know that people want to help and do something meaningful.”

“Ukraine at the Table” on Tuesday, April 19, at Bella Italia, 118 E. First St., will channel proceeds to two well-established charities, Razom for Ukraine and World Central Kitchen.

Reservations for sittings at either 4:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. can be made by calling 360-457-5442. A donation of $75 is suggested.

Organizers view it as way to experience Ukranian food and build connections as well as an opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause.

“I think many people tire of watching the news and are looking for something meaningful to do — some real connection with Ukraine and the people of Ukraine,” Conklin said.

His restaurant seemed like a natural place in which to hold a gathering for that purpose, Conklin added.

“Bella Italia has always been a place where friends gather around a table.

“The beauty of gathering around the table is that it is a universal language of caring,” he said.

Bush, who grew up in the town of Lutsk near the border with Belarus, said her parents and sisters were among the “lucky” ones who escaped into Poland.

On the cold day her parents crossed the border, they were given a hot cup of soup, likely from volunteers with the World Central Kitchen.

Bush said this gesture of offering food is deeply meaningful and nourishing.

Said Conklin: “The connection with Mariia and her family deepens the connection to the incredible resilience of the people of Ukraine.”

Conklin and Bush have been working with art donations coordinator Sharon Delabarre and chef Laurette Feit for weeks to turn the idea of a benefit into a reality.

“I just wanted to do something instead of just sitting by and saying, ‘Isn’t that bad,’” Delabarre said. “You know, you want to do something.”

Feit said she has dear friends who have family trapped in Kherson, which is in southern Ukraine, just north of Crimea.

“So this has been very personal for me. I couldn’t sit still and not take some kind of action,” she added.

“I’m putting my love into this food to send the money to these organizations.”

Bush said the menu features authentic Ukranian food.

“There is no more pleasant way to learn about a culture,” she said.

Feit said all the menu items except dessert will use the recipes of Olia Hercules, a Ukranian chef living in London and “doing great work for the war in Ukraine.”

Hercules, author of “Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond,” and Chef Jose Andreas, are Feit’s inspiration, she said.

“Jose Andreas and his organization, World Central Kitchen, have and are feeding millions of refugees in Poland and Ukraine,” she said.

The menu will feature borscht, hot beet soup made with beef stock and plenty of vegetables; pampushky, a soft, fluffy bread topped with garlic butter, baked by Bush’s mother — who is staying in Sequim with her husband, daughter and grandchildren for the time being — a spring vegetable salad like they enjoy in Ukraine; holubtsi, a warm cabbage roll with ground beef and pork; and for dessert, apple sharlotka, baked by Feit from a recipe from one of her favorite food blogs, smittenkitchen.com.

The featured drink will be Kompot, a dried apple and pear compote with honey, as well as non-lethal Molotov cocktails made with Ukranian Nemiroff Vodka. Bush said it’s a pepper vodka, “fun and yummy.”

Feit said she anticipates three long days of preparation for the group to have food enough for up to 150 people (including the meals for all the people who are working together to achieve the benefit).

Feit described the cooking — as well as the benefit — as a collaborative effort.

“We can change our world bit by bit in our own little community,” she said. “We can come together as private citizens.

“People are coming with high expectations,” she said, “and we’re going to deliver. Both Neil and I are real seasoned chefs.”

Silent auction

About two dozen items will be up for bid at the silent auction, with a good range of value, from $15 to more than $700, Delabarre said.

Items include books and local art as well as such experiences as theater tickets for both Port Angeles Players and Olympic Theatre Arts and two nights at Colette’s Bed and Breakfast, a romantic bed and (gourmet) breakfast on the waterfront between Sequim and Port Angeles.

The art includes a blue and yellow epoxy resin lathe-turned bowl by Christian Speidel, glass pieces by Judy English and June Echternkamp, and paintings by Susan Gansert Shaw and Lynn Armstrong.

Delabarre said Native Expressions in Blyn, Blue Whole Gallery in Sequim and Harbor Arts Gallery in Port Angeles “all have artists supporting this effort.

“I’ve been around a long time, over 30 years, I used to have a gallery here years ago, and I helped start the arts commission, so I know a bunch of the art folks around,” she said.

“It’s been all word of mouth. The artists for the most part have contacted me … it just shows how that community really wanted to do something.”

Donations are accepted through today. To donate an item or experience, contact Delabarre at sharondelabarre@gmail.com or 360-460-0753.

All money raised will go to Razom of Ukraine and World Central Kitchen, WCK partners “with different restaurants across Ukraine to feed internal refugees,” as well as those in Poland, Bush said.

Razom, established in 2014, has a lot of contacts in Ukraine, so it was in place to begin to help as soon as the invasion began, Bush said.

“They are able to get critical medical supplies and personal protection equipment to the front lines and occupied areas,” she said.

For more information about Razom or to donate directly, go to razomforukraine.org. To reach World Central Kitchen, go to wck.org.

Donations can be made into the “Ukraine at the Table” account at Sound Community Bank. Checks are to be made payable to Neil Conklin, Mariia Bush or Sharon DelaBarre with a note “donation” on a remitter line.

“It’s important for everyone around the world to not get tired of this and close our eyes and ears,” Bush said.

“There is urgent medical need. We absolutely need to show our support and continue to care.

“Very few things in politics are black and white, but this is one of them,” she added.

“The threat to Europe is real. The threat to democracy is real. I hope everyone understands that.”