A Benefit to Support Ukrainian Refugees
On May 14, a dinner and concert will be held to raise funds urgently needed to help the Ukrainian refugees who have been arriving in the Lucca area since their country was overrun by war in late February. Proceeds of the benefit, called Siamo Tutti Ucraini—We Stand with Ukrainians, will go to Caritas Lucca, the local branch of the international charity, which has been a lifeline for refugees in the province, organizing housing for new arrivals, gathering and distributing donations of food and other necessities, assisting with the children’s placement in schools, and generally making sure that the new arrival’s needs are met.
The benefit evening, set in the garden of the International School of Italian Cuisine, a former convent in central Lucca, promises to be very special. The dinner will bring a taste of Ukraine to Lucca. Ukrainian chef Roman Korol and Vladimir Reutov, co-owners of the local bistro and wine bar Stravinsky, along with members of the cooking school, will prepare several Ukrainian dishes, such as borscht (a rich soup of beets, beef, and other vegetables, served with sour cream) and nalisniki, dessert crepes filled with cottage cheese and raisins and served with mixed berries. Wines donated by local producers and businesses: Tenuta Adamo, The Wine Club Italy, the Montecarlo di Toscano wine consortium, Fattoria di Fubbiano, Fattoria Cercatoia Alta, Fattoria Carmignani, the restaurant and wine bar Des Arts, and Colle di Bordocheo will be served.
Throughout the event, guests will be entertained by a musical program coordinated by Tommaso Valenti and Elio Antichi. To open the evening, members of the Laboratorio Orchestrale Lucchese Fratel Arturo Paoli, a children’s orchestra organized by Caritas and directed by Valenti, will perform “The March of the Lion” and “Aquarium” from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. Valenti’s Elisa Baciocchi Ensemble will present works by Boccherini, and harpist Anna-Livia Walker and soprano Mirella Di Vita will join them for songs by Paolo Tosti. A performance by Antichi’s choral group Il Baluardo will feature popular songs from Italy and the Americas.
As a very special treat, Ivan Reutov, videographer (and brother of Vladimir), is filming brief stories from some of the Ukrainian refugee families, and the video – with an English audio track and Italian subtitles – will be shown on a continuous loop on a screen in one corner of the event.
To Secure Your Spot at (or sponsor) the Benefit
Go to www.luccagrapevine.com and click on “UKRAINE BENEFIT” to make a donation of €100 per person. No tickets will be available at the door. If you are unable to attend or the benefit is sold out, donations will be gratefully accepted through the website,now and after the event. Note that the rain date is May 15.
The need for assistance is urgent and ongoing as the war in Ukraine continues, so we are also seeking individuals, businesses, or foundations to become sponsors of the event for donations of 500 euros or more. The dinner is one of the initiatives promoted by the City of Lucca supporting hospitality for displaced Ukrainian refugees coordinated by the Caritas of Lucca, which has found generous support also from the Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca Foundation, as a further sign of the widespread solidarity in the province. If interested, please contact Peter White at firstname.lastname@example.org or +39 351 862 9660.
The Birth of a Benefit
The event was born of Lucca resident Jonell Galloway’s deep sympathy for Ukraine and the suffering of its people. A bit of context: In the two months since the war began, 12 million Ukrainians—more than a quarter of the population—have fled their homes. Though most of those have landed elsewhere in Ukraine or in neighboring countries—almost 3 million in Poland alone—Italy has welcomed more than 100,000 and 9,000 of them in Tuscany. Most are women and children; all are frightened, separated from their families and communities, floundering in an unknown language, and deeply uncertain of what their future holds.
In the face of this crisis, Galloway searched for a way to help. Because of her lifelong culinary career—as a Cordon Bleu–trained cook as well as a writer, editor, restaurant critic, culinary teacher and social media influencer with 50,000-followers for her various outlets, The Rambling Epicure—the fundraising efforts of a London chef particularly caught her attention.
Here’s how Galloway tells it: Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules and a friend were organizing fundraisers using the hashtag #CookForUkraine, getting everyone from home cooks to bakers to famous restaurateurs to cook Ukrainian dishes and donate the money raised to UNESCO. So I thought ‘Why not do a dinner here in Lucca?’ I bought Olia’s book on Ukrainian cooking, and I intended to keep it as simple as that.
“I went to English Mondays and started networking,” Galloway continues. “Bill Honohan told me that he knew a Ukrainian chef, and Bill and I met Roman and Vlady Reutov (another successful Ukrainian-Russian partnership) at their restaurant, Stravinsky. Bill had told them about our idea beforehand, and when we walked in the door, I could see it in their eyes that they had already decided to help.
“We sat down to eat, and I was inspired by Roman’s distinctive Ukrainian dishes that were authentically Ukrainian, incorporating Slavic, European, and even Ottoman influences. Right then, everything seemed to fall into place: we’d do a dinner full of interesting flavour discoveries and add concerts by musicians from Lucca, the City of Music, all in one wonderful evening, using ingredients donated by local growers and producers. It all felt so perfect to me, so completely Lucchese: the Lucchese community working to welcome the Ukrainians arriving in Lucca.”
So she set about gathering a team around her, starting with her husband, Peter White, whose career in banking made him an ideal choice to oversee the event’s finances. Also signing on was Norma Jean Bishop, owner-editor of Tuscany’s Grapevine Magazine, with deep roots in the Lucca community and experience as coordinator for two years of the annual benefit of the American International League in Florence (and onetime association treasurer). By a happy coincidence, a professional event planner—Diana Stidl, an active member of the Lucca social community and co-founder of LuccaNews.org—was enticed to join the Steering Committee, to keep everyone on their toes and think of things no one else would have.
That committee then blossomed into several subcommittees, and the benefit evening began to take shape. Rather than donate to an international organization like UNICEF, it was decided to make Caritas Lucca the beneficiary, as it was already at work on the ground to deliver aid directly right here at home, with plans especially to do more for the Ukrainian children – who, as Caritas puts it, “are very tired by the experience of war, flight and travel to distant lands, leaving pieces of family behind” – such as organizing games and other interactions between them and local kids.
Galloway credits the ultimate realization of the benefit to the incredible generosity of the Lucchesi: “They have big, fat hearts. Everyone we’ve approached has said yes. It was all so natural. They seem to understand that we all belong to one another. When we went to the cooking school, its director, Gianluca Pardini, immediately said, ‘Yes, of course you can use our professional kitchen.’ There was not a minute’s hesitation.” Conad agreed in an instant to donate food, and Mara Meo jumped in to provide pizzas for the volunteers, who, like everyone involved, are providing their time for free. “I walked into the Vanni wine shop today, and the wine merchant asked me why I hadn’t asked him to donate. He’d heard about our event by word of mouth. This entire benefit is a work of love, a gift from the Lucchesi to the Ukrainians who are arriving in Lucca with virtually nothing. Lucca is an enlightened city; the Lucchesi are an enlightened people.”
Galloway recalls one moment that particularly moved her: “When Lauro Dini of Convictus, owner of the cooking school property, offered us its garden for our event, he started talking about the Ukrainian women and children and the pain of the war, and tears were running down his cheeks. I wanted to hug him, but since it was the first time we’d met, I refrained. I thought, ‘Here we are, standing in this breathtaking city full of history and music, in this beautiful garden, with these big-hearted people, in this incredible calm, while within a day’s drive, Ukraine is being attacked, its people brutalized, its cities destroyed. How lucky we are to be in this haven of peace called Lucca.”