While Livia Livengood is a career educator who can speak four languages, her multi-talented background established over the years did not include being an expert baker.
However, that changed in recent months with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been accompanied by the local resident spending much time around the oven in addition to her teaching job at Mount Airy High School.
Livenwood, who hails from Romania, was so touched by the plight of Ukrainian refugees that she began baking and selling bread from the kitchen of her home to help them financially. And at last report, that effort had generated more than $12,000 — including 142 loaves as of Monday afternoon.
“I just wanted to do something to help,” said Livengood, who has worked at the high school for 16 years, presently teaching Spanish.
Though her bread-making charity project coincided with the Russian attack on Ukraine, she was not exactly a novice in the baking department although it was a skill learned only relatively recently.
“I’m not (a baker by tradition),” Livengood said without hesitation, explaining that the embracing of that role stemmed from her own family’s needs as a result of the pandemic.
“You didn’t know if you were going to find bread in the store,” she explained.
So after the Ukrainian invasion, Livengood naturally turned to her newfound baking abilities as a way to aid the refugees, initially generating a tidy sum in one week via that method for a UNICEF program. “I was surprised to raise $400.”
Earlier, she and daughter Laura, 16, had baked bread together to provide agility components for a local dog park spearheaded by Rotary Club members.
Livengood’s Ukrainian assistance ratcheted up quite a bit after seeing refugees up close and personal rather than as just as random individuals on television.
This occurred due to some taking refuge in her native country Romania, located in the same part of the world as Ukraine, who struck a chord with the local woman upon witnessing them.
A German pastor of a church in Romania who was taking care of an initial 17 refugees, including a number of kids, posted a photo of the group. “He is putting them up in the German parochial church,” Livengood said.
“I saw the children and thought, ‘I need to do more for the children,”’ she added concerning the expanding of her Ukrainian aid efforts, while also mentioning that many worthwhile organizations are providing assistance.
“This pastor is the brother of one of my best friends from high school,” Livengood explained. “He did not even ask for help, he just posted the picture, and I was saddened by that — I just wanted to do something to help.”
Consumer prices are much higher in Romania than here, according to the Mount Airy High teacher.
“Everything is double there,” Livengood related, including an electric bill of $2,000 per month where the refugees have been housed. “I don’t know how people there survive and make it, it costs so much to live.”
Thousands of dollars were spent just to bring the refugees over from Ukraine.
Four loaves per day
Livia Livengood suddenly found herself juggling the teaching job at Mount Airy High School with a growing bread-making sideline, which certainly involved a marketable product, given her previous fundraising success for UNICEF and the dog park. “Everybody likes bread.”
This eventually would include baking four to six loaves per day in her kitchen at home. “It’s a yeast bread,” she said of the product involved. “It looks and tastes like sourdough.”
The process is not as easy as it might sound, with the bread dough having to be set up at the end of each day, Livengood advised. “And it rises during the night.” The dough also must be kneaded, with the baking done in the mornings before the teacher heads to school.
There was one occasion in which Livengood overtaxed her oven and almost set the house on fire. “That was a bad idea,” she admits, which also included burning all four loaves baking at the time.
Her family has been quite understanding about the undertaking, she indicated, which in addition to her daughter includes husband Rob and son Luca, 14.
Livia and Rob met in 2001 when he was overseas serving with the Peace Corps. She came to Mount Airy in 2004.
“I have been teaching at the high school for 16 years,” said Livengood, who along with now instructing Spanish also taught German for a couple of years. Overall, she speaks those two languages, plus English and Romanian.
After running at maximum production, the baking operation gradually has scaled down, going from four to two loaves daily and now about two every other day.
“Right now it’s very manageable,” Livengood said.
Public eager to help
“The response was very overwhelming — in a very positive way,” Livengood said of the bread-making campaign. The order/sales process for loaves has been conducted through a Facebook page she maintains to aid the Ukrainians.
This was bolstered by the many followers she has amassed over the years, including former students and others. “I do have quite a following, which helps.”
A suggested charge, or donation, for each loaf is $20, with the option of paying more — due to the extra motivation of assisting a downtrodden people rather than just getting one’s full money’s worth.
“Some give $20 and some give $100 — it’s up to people what they want to give,” Livengood said. “A lot of people just wanted the bread.”
Besides its sales, contributions to assist the Ukrainians have come in other ways.
Livengood mentioned being at a charity event to promote their cause earlier this year at Miss Angel’s Farm. “A total stranger gave me $500.”
Central Methodist Church also donated $1,000.
Meanwhile, Donna Bailey has been baking cinnamon rolls in support of the fundraiser, and Harlan Stone has baked a couple of loaves of bread for the effort.
Some people have donated flour, including Chris Wishart, the chef at Old North State Winery, who gave a 60-pound bag. The Xi Alpha Pi Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi of Mount Airy donated $500, with group members giving more individually.
Among other assistance, Pamela Hicks raised $1,000 by donating two of her paintings to the Ukrainian fundraiser, including setting up a silent auction online which saved Livengood time. She also expressed thanks to Mark Walker and Stanton Denman for getting the paintings, and an anonymous donor who contributed $400.
“People have been giving so much,” the teacher/baker observed. “The generosity of people has been amazing.”
All the money goes to the church in Romania.
Livengood pointed out that the refugees will continue to need rent and other assistance as they settle into new homes and she plans to maintain her bread-making endeavor indefinitely.
“As long as it can help.”