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5,000 Island pierogi and 2,000 Island cabbage rolls raise $16,000 for Ukrainian aid

Starboard Grill week-long fundraiser creates special meals to help in humanitarian effort
Gaylene Ruel, left, and owner Brad DeClercq from Starboard Grill, and former Little Bavaria owner Kathy Krznaric prepare pierogi for the final stretch of the Ukrainian feast at Starboard on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (ELLIOT DREW/ Alberni Valley News)

What does it take to make more than 5,000 pierogi and 2,000 cabbage rolls?

Starboard Grill owners and staff tallied the numbers after their wildly popular, seven-day Ukrainian feast fundraiser: 200 pounds of cabbage, 130 lbs. of potatoes, 100 lbs. of onions, 40 litres of sour cream, 44 lbs. of rice, 16 litres of milk, 170 lbs. of flour, 15 lbs. of cheddar cheese, 66 lbs. of ground beef, 33 lbs. of ground pork and 86 lbs. of Pete’s Mountain Meats kovbasa.

The result was 1,030 orders of Ukrainian feast, which raised $16,455 that will be sent to the Canadian Red Cross for Ukrainian Humanitarian Effort.

“We’re blown away,” said Kelly DeClercq, who co-owns the Port Alberni restaurant with husband Brad, who is the chef. “We had no idea what we were getting into as far as orders.”

They ran out of meals every day, sometimes by 1:30 p.m.

Staff amassed 431 paid labour hours during the week-long fundraiser. They dealt with a broken commercial-grade Kitchen Aid mixer because head pierogi maker Gaylene Ruel made so many batches of dough. There was no heat in the restaurant, the kitchen was crowded thanks to all the extra help and staff fielded hundreds of phone calls.

Those staff hours did not include the time that volunteers like Lynn Mickalko from Porto Taco or Kathy Krznaric, former owner of Little Bavaria, put in making hundreds of cabbage rolls and pierogi, nor the DeClercqs’ time. “Brad was at the restaurant most mornings at 5 a.m. and stayed until usually after 8 p.m. each night,” said Kelly.

“My fingers are numb from rolling cabbage rolls,” chef Brad DeClercq said.

DeClercq puts on a Ukrainian feast every January, and it’s always popular. A regular customer and someone who is close to the staff suggested they bring it back this month to help support the people of Ukraine, whose country is currently under attack from Russian military forces.

“This was our ninth year in January doing Ukrainian food. It’s a nice comfort food to do in January,” Kelly DeClercq said. The March fundraiser, which ran from March 17–23, was put together quickly. Pete’s Mountain Meats came in on a weekend to prepare more kovbasa when the first batch ran out. Quality Foods stepped up when something went sideways with Starboard’s cabbage order from another supplier.

“It’s been emotionally overwhelming with the comments from people on what we were doing,” Kelly said.

The DeClercqs thanked their customers who supported the fundraiser. “We did not expect this turnout and are grateful to everyone who dined in, opted for takeout, gave extra donations and said so many nice things.

“It has been a hard two years with COVID-19, restrictions, the clock tower construction and uncertainty if the city will renew our lease, as we would like to stay,” they said.

“To be able to hold this fundraiser and send $16,455 to the people of Ukraine has been an amazing and emotional experience.”

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