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No one misses out at Gwinnett's first Pierogi Festival

Five thousand pierogies! Five thousand! And they were all gone hours before Gwinnett's first Pierogi Festival was over.

People came from all over to taste this Polish delicacy at St. Marguerite d'Youville Church in Lawrenceville. A young man standing in front of me said he'd travel any distance for a pierogi.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Brazil," he replied.

Now I think he was just born in Brazil and didn't really fly up here for a pierogi, but Father Marek Ciesla, who organized the festival, said some people did put some miles behind them. His Superior, Father Pawel Bandurski, SChr, drove 12 hours from Chicago. This man is Provincial for North American Province of the Society of Christ Fathers, who serve Poles living outside the borders of Republic of Poland, and even he didn't get a pierogi.

"We were hoping for 500 to 600 people," Ciesla said. "We were positively overwhelmed by the turnout. No one actually counted how many people were here, but some workers estimate 4,000 or more.

"We were really happy people came, but were feeling broken hearted that they couldn't eat. But people were understanding. We even got e-mails saying, 'Thank you very much even if we didn't get food and we plan to come again next year.'"

But no one has to wait until next year.

"The goodness in those people brought out the goodness in us," Ciesla said.

So starting Sept. 20, there will be a frozen pierogi bank at the church and also a list of ladies willing to make pierogies for anyone who missed out at the big event. Those wanting to place a special order can call 770-448-5222.

Since I couldn't feed my face at the festival, I explored the displays to see if I could at least find some fodder for my column. I did.

I discovered pierogies are not the only Polish offering in the community. Ten years ago, Polish-born pianist and music educator Dorota Lato and her husband, concert pianist Piotr Folkert, established the Atlanta Chopin Society, based in Johns Creek. Their intention was to promote awareness of this Polish musician, who has more "fan clubs" than any other classical composer.

Once a year the society holds a competition for young pianists, and twice a year they sponsor a concert with a renowned pianist. After each concert, children are invited to submit essays for a contest explaining what the music meant to them. The next guest pianist will be Christopher O'Riley, who will perform at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center on Oct. 24.

In February, for Chopin's 200th birthday celebration, Folkert will perform with the Johns Creek Chopin Symphony Orchestra, and I'm sure other surprises are being orchestrated. For more info, visit www.chopinatlanta.org.

Pierogies and pianos pulling people together. But there's more to it than that. Priorities.

"We enjoy these unifying experiences," Marek said, "but we are united first in prayer, then in service."

Amen.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.