Two pies submitted by a baker in Florida for the 2020 virtual Pie It Forward effort, organized by the South Side Pie Challenge in support of local food banks. Credit: Provided

HYDE PARK — The South Side Pie Challenge is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic for a second year — but this time around, attendees will be able to sample pies in person once again.

The annual bake-off is 2-4 p.m. Saturday on the south side of Nichols Park. Pies will be sold to-go under tents behind the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave.

Slices are $4 each or eight for $28. Proceeds support the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council’s food programs, including food pantries at Hyde Park Union Church and St. Paul and the Redeemer and a soup kitchen at Kenwood United Church of Christ. This year’s fundraising goal is $5,000.

Attendees are welcome to eat their pie in the park, but “we’re not holding a gathering,” said Julie Vassilatos, who co-founded the Pie Challenge in 2012 with Kate Agarwal. Social distancing and masks are required.

“If people want to stay, it’s a big park — you can bring your blanket and sit somewhere very far from us,” she said. “This is very much a minimalist event.”

Though local officials are cautiously optimistic the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over, things weren’t looking “so rosy” when plans were being finalized in July, Vassilatos said.

Vassilatos decided to stick to the plan for an outdoor, to-go version of the event rather than making last-minute changes.

“I know some outdoor events that are absolutely institutions in Hyde Park haven’t been held because of COVID,” Vassilatos said. “Everyone just has to be flexible and sort of limp along and do the best we can. We decided to keep it at a minimum in terms of gathering so that we could hold it at all.”

Fifty bakers registered this year by donating $30 to the food programs — a slightly lower turnout than the 60-plus participants that were the norm in years past, Vassilatos said.

Fundraisers like the Pie Challenge and food programs like the interfaith council’s can help address food insecurity, but many Chicagoans are “still in a terrible patch right now” and are struggling to feed themselves and their families, Vassilatos said.

She praised city officials for organizing the Food Equity Council, saying it can be a “revolutionary” way of acknowledging and addressing the issue.

“We really want people — those who can — to really step up and help those who are still stuck in survival mode,” Vassilatos said. “I just want to encourage people to, despite everything, still be thinking about others and throw out a little lifeline in whatever way they can. [The Pie Challenge] is an easy way.”

Last year’s Pie It Forward initiative, a virtual event which took the Pie Challenge international, will not continue this year, Vassilatos said. Participants donated at least $20 to their local food pantries and baked a pie for a loved one, who was encouraged to do the same.

Pie It Forward is “a great concept that we’re going to keep in our back pockets” and potentially revive in the future, Vassilatos said.

This year’s judges include MasterChef Junior finalist Evan Robinson, pastry chef and former Food Network host Gale Gand and chef Cliff Rome of Peach’s Restaurant.

Winners of the last in-person challenge in 2019 were:

  • Olivia McMeel’s “Nut-thing Compares to This.”
  • Chris Andrews’ “The Third One I Just Made,” a fruit pie.
  • Amanda Houser’s “Perfect Pitch Key Lime.”
  • Lea Redd’s “Bumpkin Pumpkin Pie.”

For more information on this year’s event, or to donate to the interfaith council’s food programs, visit the Pie Challenge’s website.

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