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Ottawa Valley professor sells pierogis for Ukraine

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Over the last two and a half weeks, Bo Stelmach has made well over 4,000 pierogis.

Usually Stelmach, an English professor at Algonquin College in Pembroke, and his family only cook up a batch of pierogis once every couple months. However, while doing so recently, and after being subjected to waves of news about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the idea came to his family.

"I looked at him and said, 'You know what we should do?'" recalls Colette Mantifel, Stelmach's partner. "He looked at me and said, 'a fundraiser', and I said, 'Yes, we should do that.'"

The pitch of a dozen pierogis for $10 started small as an email among colleagues. After posting about their fundraiser in a local Facebook group, the pierogi chefs were inundated.

"That turned into about 65 or 70," Stelmach says. "And by the next morning people had kept responding so we were over 100 dozen sales."

To date, the family has put in over 150 hours in their kitchen, making thousands of pierogis and raising over $3,700 for the Red Cross Ukraine humanitarian crisis relief fund.

Stelmach says there are still another 120 dozen batches to make this coming weekend before the family wrap up their fundraiser.

"It's just the symbol of the pierogi," Stelmach tells CTV News Ottawa. "It brought people together, meals. And food is very important to the Ukrainian culture. It makes me smile being able to do this."

Stelmach is a first-generation Canadian. His Ukrainian parents moved to Toronto following World War II. Unfortunately, the English professor says he hasn't had the chance to travel to Ukraine yet. But he is proud to be using his mother's traditional pierogi recipe to make a difference.

"People are having a really tough time surviving. And they're in need and I felt a pull to do this."

Although experiencing the Ukrainian culture second-hand, Stelmach's son Ben says his dad taught him the family pierogi recipe at 12 years old.

"The presence of the Ukrainian culture was definitely felt very strongly throughout my childhood," says the younger Stelmach. "Even though I'm not directly connected to it, it's really important to my dad and therefore I feel that it's really important to me."

After devoting nearly every waking hour of free time to pierogi making due to demand over the last few weeks, the family says the final orders will be prepared this weekend, bringing their total donation to the Red Cross to roughly $5,000.

"No matter how tired we get, we cannot be as tired as the Ukrainian people," says Mantifel. "So that's motivation for us."

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