Vegreville, Alta. to serve up 12,000 perogies as part of fundraiser to help Ukrainian refugees

The community of Vegreville, east of Edmonton, is well known for its Ukraine roots. The town is even home to a giant pysanka. Now, community members are banding together to welcome refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

In about a week’s time, Michelle Henderson is expecting about 1,000 people to come around for dinner. 

“It’s overwhelming, it’s actually quite unnerving,” said Henderson, who is the fundraising chair of the Vegreville and Area Stands with Ukraine Committee

Their “Pyrohy for Peace” fundraising dinner, on May 18 at the Vegreville Social Centre, is the first big event the regional committee has organized. 

“Around 12,000 perogies will have to be mass made and mass boiled,” said Henderson. “It’s going to be a lot.”

‘I just had to do something’

2 days ago

Duration 2:13

See how members of the Vegreville and Area Stands with Ukraine Committee are coming together to help. 2:13

You can see more Albertans standing with Ukraine on this week’s Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and CBC Gem. 

Henderson says some guests will dine in the hall while others will take their meals to go and volunteers from school kids to seniors from across the region will be helping in the kitchen.

“We’ve got 4-H groups, hockey groups, anybody who wants to come help that day of, I will find them a job,” she said.

Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February. The war has displaced an estimated quarter of the country’s population, killing and injuring thousands.

For Henderson, a mother of two, watching what’s been happening the last two months has been “devastating.”

“My family in particular, we’re third generation Ukranians, my dad’s grandparents came here in 1903,” Henderson said. But even non-Ukrainians want to pitch in, she said.

“No matter who you talk to, no matter where they’re from, they want to help.”

Nicole Lakusta shows off the t-shirts and stickers the committee is selling as part of the fundraising efforts of the Vegreville and Area Stands with Ukraine Committee. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Nicole Lakusta is a long-time Vegreville resident and isn’t Ukrainian. She went to the first town meeting, about a month ago, not expecting to stick her hand up and volunteer. She wound up being the chair of communications for the committee. 

“You know, I saw this break out and I couldn’t sleep, I just had to do something,” she said.

Lakusta says the group has already set up a collection centre for physical donations. They’ve designed and printed t-shirts and stickers they’re selling at the Chamber of Commerce, and there’s a pancake breakfast planned in Lamont on June 4, all with an eye to raising funds to help refugees relocating to the area. 

“We’ve already started to welcome people and it’s a great feeling and I can’t wait to get more people here, get them safe and show them what a great life it is here,” Lakusta said.

The Vegreville egg is a giant sculpture of a pysanka, a Ukrainian-style Easter egg. It’s a symbol connected to local history and heritage. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

The Mayor of Vegreville says they’re prepared, organized and motivated to help. 

“I think it’s no secret that in the 100 mile radius [around] Vegreville is what we like to refer to as the Ukraine basket of Alberta,” says Tim MacPhee, who is not Ukrainian.

He believes the community of 5,673 and surrounding region could provide refuge for Ukrainians fleeing the war, “to find translators, to get their children in school, to find jobs.”

MacPhee expects community fundraisers like the perogy supper to be the first of many, and he said he’s so proud of his community. 

“It’s frustrating when you watch the news every night, you can’t do enough,” he said “it’s frustrating that it’s a slow process for refugees to get here, but it’s going to happen and we’re going to be ready for it when it does.”

The “Pyrohy For Peace” fundraising dinner is taking place on May 18 at the Vegreville Social Centre. (Submitted by Vegreville and Area Stands with Ukraine Committee)

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