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Building Community with Pie

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Building Community with Pie

If you were to rank the essential parts of the Thanksgiving meal, pie would be right up there with turkey. It’s a food Chef Mary Ellen Diaz believes should have a place at the table well after the holiday season—to serve others and make connections.

Chef Diaz runs the non-profit First Slice—it’s an organization with a pie-centric business model. It sells pies of all sorts, year round, as well as lunch foods in the Pie Café at the Lill Street Art Center in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood. It also sells meal subscription programs. And, it uses revenue from both to pay for meals, and of course pies, for people in need.

The day I visit, the kitchen is humming. Cooks are preparing for the holiday. They’re slicing carrots. Chopping onions.
Ambi: Chopping/slicing

And of course, making pies, dozens and dozens of them for Thanksgiving. Ambi: Rolling pin

Diaz says pies have a special ability to bring people together.

DIAZ: I’m connected with a generation of American women who made pies as a symbol of caring, giving and community.

Diaz started First Slice about 6 years ago, when she left her job as corporate chef for Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group.

DIAZ: I adopted my son, took a leave of absence and realized that I had a craft that could give back and I wanted to find a way to do that.

First Slice now provides 800 meals a week to people in need—most of the food goes to people under the age of 18. It has paid staff and a deep bench of volunteers. They make comfort food and believe it can help build community. I’m Adriene Hill, Chicago Public Radio.

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