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Sunflowers and snow still raise more than $45,000 for Ukraine

Second fundraiser Sunday at Troutbeck

MILLERTON — A  forecast of 7 inches of snow or more and high winds couldn’t stop organizers from holding a fundraiser for Ukraine on Saturday, March 12, at the RE Institute art studio in Millerton. The event was cut short because of the wintry weather, ending at about 1:45 p.m. rather than 3:30 p.m., but still roughly 55 people paid $150 a ticket and showed up to support the cause.

André Wlodar, who planned the fundraiser with his wife, Kim Schmidt-Wlodar along with the assistance of numerous businesses and community members, acknowledged it can be hard for him to pull back.

“I can sometimes get too emotional and push too much, but that’s the job. It’s not easy to get people to rally,” he said.

Wlodar is from Poland; he and his wife have split their time between Millerton and NYC for the past 10 years. Having grown up so close to the Ukrainian border, with much of his family still in Poland, he said he feels personally invested in helping those who are now under attack by Russia.

Wlodar added he realized he was unrelenting in wanting to make sure last Saturday’s event went on as planned, but now recognizes it may have been too stressful for others, like Millerton sculptor Henry Klimowicz. Klimowicz had opened up his art studio, the RE Institute, for the fundraiser with barely a week’s notice. He sent out a mass email that the event was canceled just hours before it was set to happen, contrary to what Wlodar was emailing.

“I apologized to him, sincerely, because I was pushing maybe too much,” said Wlodar. “I wanted this to happen: The food, everything, was all set. I under-estimated how bad the storm would be.”

There was plenty of food, all donated by local chefs who cooked and baked specialities with a Ukrainian flare. Michel and Patricia of Champetre in Pine Plains provided stuffed cabbage; traditional borscht was served by Ukrainian volunteers Alicia and Jorge Szendiuch from Sheffield, Mass. A shiitake/ricotta varenyky (pierogi), with creme fraiche and toasted walnuts was created by local chef Matthew Lodes. Mary O’Brien of Chaiwala made five sublime cakes in a variety of flavors  and Dani Nicholson made 80 mouth-watering empanadas. Four Brothers donated 10 pizzas; Robert, the owner of Le Gamin in Sharon, brought decadent blintzes while others brought kielbasa and baked goods. Antoine, of Le Caviste in Stanfordville, provided both wine and water to quench everyone’s thirst and the Harneys donated six cases of iced teas.

“And web designer Shea Bartel worked tirelessly to build the web pages for the auction, and the list goes on and on,” said Wlodar.

There was also music to dance to and a variety of artwork to bid on. The art was donated by a range of local artists along with galleries and artists in NYC for the silent auction; it hung beautifully on the walls of the large, but un-insulated, barn turned art studio donated for the event.

The artwork, mostly relating to Ukraine and its struggles, remains for sale; for more information go to  www.kimschmidtfineart.com/fundraiser-for-ukraine. All proceeds will go to the 501(c)3 nonprofit, Sunflower of Peace, to aid Ukraine. (For more on the humanitarian organization, go to www.sunflowerofpeace.com.) Bidding will conclude this Sunday, March 20, at midnight.

Some of the planned events were naturally canceled due to the snowstorm, including the virtual talk of Amnesty International lawyer Lawrence Moss.

But there were many bright spots, most notably the sunflowers spotted everywhere. The national flower of Ukraine, sunflowers symbolized the strength and resistance of the country now fighting for its freedom. The vibrant yellow flowers even adorned supporters’ heads and necks on Saturday as many wore sunflower wreaths throughout the fundraiser.

As of Tuesday, March 15, Wlodar said about $20,000 had been raised through the fundraiser; another $25,000 had been raised through the art auction thus far.

“We are fundraising now only for only Sunflower of Peace, because I don’t want to get into any trouble, and we partnered with them,” he said. “I talked to [Sunflower of Peace founder] Katja Malakhova, who in turn will donate money to the orphans. As a U.S. charity, they can do with that money everything according to the statutes.”

Wlodar said Sunflower of Peace can also then direct the money to causes like the World Central Kitchen, the Wayair Foundation and Razom (both of which help evacuate orphans and other refugees from Ukraine to Poland) and others.

Because the snowstorm  disrupted the fundraiser and  impacted attendance (despite Wlodar hiring shuttles to help people avoid having to drive on icy roads), there will be a second fundraiser this Sunday. The hope is more art will also be bid on, along with more items from the silent auction.

Wlodar thanked those who attended the event at the RE Institute for supporting what he described as a “nonpolitical [cause]; a clear choice of good over evil.”

The event drew people from around the region, including from Hudson; Rhinebeck; Great Barrington, Mass.; Cornwall, Conn.; and beyond.

The next fundraiser will be this Sunday, March 20, from 12:30 to 3 p.m., at Troutbeck in Amenia, at 515 Leedsville Road (www.troutbeck.com). It will be an indoor/outdoor event, with limited parking. Tickets cost $150. For details, email andrewlodar@gmail.com, call or text 786-282-2495; RSVP by Wednesday.

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