Ilona Kwiecien: Dispatch from Poland – Two guys, a restaurant and JCVIS

  • Suze Campbell, Tony Scholll, Kristen Leader, Paul Robb (left) Patty Scholl, Ken Campbell and Meg Gourley (right) at the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society dinner. —COURTESY PHOTO

  • Adam (left) and Robert of Rozmaryn with the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society donation. —COURTESY PHOTO

Published: 4/25/2022 11:27:53 AM
Modified: 4/25/2022 11:26:28 AM

I first came across the Rozmaryn restaurant in Lublin’s Old Town a few days into my stay. What drew my attention was a handwritten sign on the ground expressing the restaurant’s solidarity with Ukraine and offering free lunches of soup and bread to refugees.

Curious, I walked in and asked for the owner, who happened to be behind the bar. (Robert, I later learned, also has a partner, Adam.). Robert told me that they had started offering free meals a few days after the war started. What prompted this initiative is a Ukrainian woman who walked in with a child in her arms and holding another by the hand. “She looked exhausted,” he said.

They then came up with a plan, feeding between 30 and 50 a day. Around a dozen walked in while I was there. That day I left a donation of $50.

In one of those synergistic episodes which no one could have counted on, word spread after I mentioned this encounter to a few people back home. Enter Suze Campbell, who was in the process of organizing the annual Welcome Spring Dinner for the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society (JCVIS). She was moved to hold a fundraiser. This is her story.

“I had the idea that Ilona’s presence in Poland and her visit to this restaurant could give the JCVIS an opportunity to support Ukrainians directly, practically and usefully,” she said. “Ilona, a longtime member of the JCVIS, sent me a picture of the pretty pink stucco front of the restaurant with the inviting sign. I went online and discovered the restaurant’s beautifully constructed website. I could decipher words well enough to feel connected to the restaurant and to make me want to dine there right away, and using their contact information, I wrote a letter to the owners outlining my plan.

On April 3, some 6,725 kilometers away from Lublin, Poland, at The Inn at East Hill Farm, Troy, New Hampshire, 60 guests sat at 10 tables decorated with vases of sunflowers, the Ukrainian national flower, and a large envelope. Attached on the front of each envelope was the picture Ilona had sent and on the back, the letter I had written to Rozmaryn’s owners. People were very eager to fill the envelopes with checks and cash, and the JCVIS then transferred the total to Ilona’s account.

The donations were a small but heartfelt gesture on the part of JCVIS members desiring to express solidarity with Ukrainians and with the Polish people who are befriending them.”

JCVIS raised $1,300 at that dinner! The day before I flew home, I was able to meet with Adam and Robert and give them the money. They were stunned not only by the gesture but especially by the amount and immediately asked what more they could do. They also shared the story which impacted their generosity. In the 1990s, they along with other Poles went to various European Union countries to earn some “real money.” In their case, they went to Italy with no plan how to proceed, and the first days were really difficult with no food, lodging, etc. until they stumbled upon an organization which offered both.

Ultimately, they earned enough money to come back home and open Rozmaryn. Before we said our goodbyes, we explored the possibility of offering a special meal with Ukrainian dishes for Orthodox Easter on April 24; plans were well underway as I left! By the way, their pizza and Caesar salad (with their special rosemary flatbread) are terrific, worth a visit if you are ever in Lublin!

Ilona Kwiecien is a Jaffrey resident whose parents were Polish refugees after World War II. Her last Army assignment before retiring in 1998 was as Army attaché in Kyiv for 2 1/2 years.

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