Former GM, Unifor man takes new culinary skills from Oshawa to Poland to help Ukrainian refugees

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Published June 9, 2022 at 12:52 pm

A long-time General Motors employee and Unifor Communications Director is on his way back to Oshawa today after an “emotional” week in Poland with the World Central Kitchen helping to feed Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war in their homeland.

“This experience has been unbelievable and very emotional,” said Joe Sarnovsky, whose grandparents immigrated from Ukraine in the early 1900s. “I was so happy to interact with many Ukrainians in the evening at the train station while offering them some food and drinks. It was hard seeing them, mostly women with children, hauling around their possessions in many suitcases, looking sad, tired and worried. They were very appreciative that many of us came from so far away to help out.”

“To be able to offer them a friendly smile, some kindness and a hot meal amidst the chaos they are living through was a highlight for me.”

 

Joe and some his volunteer culinary team

Sarnovsky took an early retirement package from GM at the beginning of the pandemic after nearly 30 years with the company and enrolled in the culinary arts program at George Brown College in Toronto, graduating with an Honours Certificate in Culinary Skills in December 2021.

When the Russians invaded Ukraine he donated some money and attended a few rallies but he knew that was not enough. With his labour background and a history of volunteering (with Unifor and with organizations such as the United Way of Durham Region and the Toronto International Film Festival) he knew he could do more and when he heard about what the World Central Kitchen was doing he jumped at the chance to help.

 

“When this conflict started I didn’t know what to do. But it has been an amazing experience,” he said, “Having Ukrainian blood in me was one of the reasons I chose to come and assist. That, along with the culinary training I received last year at George Brown College gave me the confidence to volunteer in the kitchen.”

(Sarnovsky said the support from the school has been “overwhelming” after George Brown provided $2,000 to help with travel expenses and the college’s student association donated $2,500 to the World Central Kitchen.)

Sarnovsky helped prepare about 35,000 sandwiches a week, many large pots of soup, different proteins, plus salads and desserts. “As soon as we prepare the food, it is loaded onto trucks and distributed.”

 

He also volunteered several evenings at the train station distributing hot food and drinks (and treats for the children) to the new arrivals.

The food made at the Przemysl kitchen is distributed to nine different locations serving refugees – two at the local train station, an abandoned shopping mall being used as a temporary shelter and at several border crossing locations.

Sarnovsky said he was surprised with how smooth the operation was in Poland and had high praise for the World Central Kitchen – an organization that provides meals to people affected by humanitarian, climate and community crises around the globe – and its volunteers.

Joe and World Central Kitchen founder Chef Jose Andres

“I was really impressed with the World Central Kitchen organization and their setup in Przemysl, Poland,” he said. “I had the pleasure of working with some wonderful volunteers and chefs from around the world. There are about 25 of us on the kitchen side, mainly from the U.S., but also from Poland, Italy and a couple of us from Canada.”

“A thrill was meeting Chef Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen, who came to visit us one day to thank us for our work.”

Sarnovsky’s last day in the kitchen was Sunday and he has spent the past few days seeing the sights and connecting with family history.

“When I get back I’m going to keep my eyes open for other opportunities like this, maybe even something else with World Central Kitchen. “

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