The overwhelming success of a relief effort by a Ukrainian-owned bakery for its war-torn home country has left its staff feeling grateful. It has also led to supply shortages for the cheesecake shop and the dilemma of how best to allocate the more than $100,000 that has been raised.
Laika Cheesecakes & Espresso in Alamo Heights began fundraising efforts Feb. 25, a day after Russia began attacks on Ukraine. That weekend, each dollar spent at the bakery was put into a relief fund to later donate to aid Ukraine.
The bakery sold 4,600 single-serve jars of cheesecake, each at $6.50, and 670 cheesecake slices, ranging from $7.50 to $8.50. In addition to cheesecake, customers bought T-shirts, hats and coffee to help raise more than $72,000 in just one weekend, that owner Anna Afanasieva said would go to humanitarian groups and the Ukrainian military.
Of the total raised, Afanasieva said in an Instagram post that about $25,000 of the grand total were just donations, excluding sales.
The flow of customers has been steady since then, and the total has risen through donations, said bakery assistant Ricardo Perez Jr.
“We posted it on our social media and it went viral instantly. We never expected it, and the next day we came here and the line was around the building already before we opened,” said co-owner Viktor Krizma.
As a result of all the new customers, the bakery is dealing with obstacles affecting production.
“We’re having container issues, so that’s directly affecting us right now,” Krizma said. “It got super, insanely busy and then we can’t find cream cheese. For Anna, she’s having to deal with all these things.”
At the same time she is managing the busy bakery, Afanasieva is trying to keep in contact with family members in Odessa, located on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
“Anna obviously takes it much harder because she literally has family members and friends she grew up with in Ukraine,” Krizma said.
Perez said owners plan to donate the money “sometime this week,” but Krizma said a lot is changing daily, leading to discussions about how to use the money to help Ukrainians in the best way possible.
Krizma said the bakery has two beneficiaries it has verified and deemed reliable; Save Life in UA and a national fundraising account.
“These accounts, they have their own logistics and they know exactly what is needed at the moment, so we will most probably send the proceeds there, as they send it to the places where it’s needed the most,” said Krizma.
Krizma added it’s likely some funds will be spent in the U.S. on Ukrainians’ basic necessities, including medical supplies, items for newborn babies and portable cell phone chargers. Laika Cheesecakes and Espresso will partner with freight company Meest, which delivers shipments from the United States to Ukraine.
“This was Anna’s way of responding to an emergency that she just felt was not given enough attention,” he said.
Afanasieva took to Instagram last week to encourage other Ukrainian-owned businesses to take action and help in anyway they can.
In a statement released on the bakery’s social media Monday, Perez wrote, “This is truly unbelievable. We really want to thank everyone who came and helped. The people of Ukraine absolutely need this aid and San Antonio is making sure they are getting it.”
Meanwhile, members of local nonprofit Ukrainian San Antonio also are working with Meest to deliver supplies abroad. On Thursday, the group is gathering medical supplies at the Hilton Garden Inn at The Rim, 5730 Rim Pass, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Our main goal right now is to get the supply and ship it because there’s no way to buy [supplies] anymore in Ukraine,” said Olenka Bravo, one of the group’s board members. “We decided it was time to do something more than just to send money.”
Bravo said the group also has received monetary donations, including $50,000 from HEB, $10,000 from Nichas Comida Mexicana, $10,000 from Sparkly Photography and $30,000 from individual donors.