World Central Kitchen's mission is to provide meals in response to humanitarian, climate and community crises while working to build resilient food systems with locally led solutions. Photo courtesy of World Central Kitchen.

Cooking for Hope

Local chef travels to Poland to feed Ukrainian refugees

By Vanessa Infanzon

On June 3, Sergiy Mysyk waited for Robert Adler inside Charlotte Douglas International Airport with a black Samsonite suitcase. It was adorned with one blue and one yellow strip of tape to show solidarity with Ukraine. Mysyk handed off the luggage to Adler for delivery to Poland. He had filled it with lightweight uniforms and medical kits with tourniquets for military troops fighting on the front lines in Ukraine.

After two days of travel, the 58-year-old Adler arrived in Przemysl, Poland, to volunteer for seven days with the World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit serving thousands of meals a day to people displaced by the war in Ukraine. He had stopped first in Warsaw to deliver Mysyk’s suitcase to the network of people providing supplies to the military.

Adler, known as Chef Ernie to Charlotteans, caters personal and corporate events and teaches in-home grilling and cooking classes through his company, Ernie’s Smokehouse. A resident of South Charlotte’s Raintree neighborhood, Adler is a regular guest on WCNC’s “Charlotte Today” and WBTV’s weekend morning show, sharing cooking and grilling tips with viewers.

One of the impactful experiences Adler had was meeting this little girl who had just arrived from Lviv with her mother. Photo courtesy of Robert Adler.

Adler spends Saturday mornings at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market, where he sells brisket, pork, chicken and sides. For online orders, Adler offers pickup locations in Lancaster, Mount Holly and Sun City in Indian Land. He’s owned Adler Insurance Group for the past 32 years.

The movie “Fiddler on the Roof” resonates with Adler, whose Jewish roots date back to the early 1900s, when the film takes place. In the last scene, Jewish families are forced to leave their homes in Ukraine because of new Russian laws forbidding them from living in rural towns with less than 10,000 people.

Adler explains that 100 years ago, we didn’t know what was going on across the globe. “These things happened under the radar,” he says. “Well, now these things are on the radar. We’ve got to figure out a way to stop it and help people.”

Adler heard about World Central Kitchen years ago when the organization set up in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. When he realized he wanted to help, he immediately thought of WCK. Adler raised $16,000 for them through a GoFundMe account. He covered his travel expenses to and from Poland and his accommodations at an Airbnb.

“The one thing I can do is feed them (Ukrainian people) and give them a smile,” Adler says. “Let them know people do love them and support them. We’re going to do what we can to help them.”