South Side Pie Challenge

Past entrants into the South Side Pie Challenge undergo sampling. 

The South Side Pie Challenge, ordinarily an opportunity for dozens of amateur bakers to test their pie-baking mettle against their neighbors, is going virtual, and international, this year. 

The event, which was started in 2011 by Kate Agarwal and Julie Vassilatos, is usually held at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club — last year, there were 63 participants, with hundreds of people stopping by to sample the pies. 

During the pandemic this May, the group ran a virtual challenge in which people submitted videos of themselves baking pies. In total, they raised $3,200 for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. 

While Agarwal and Vassilatos were reluctant to cancel this year’s main event, the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately forced their hand. 

“People in May said, ‘Oh no, does this mean you’re not having the pie challenge?’ I was like, ‘I’m not saying that,’ ” said Vassilatos. “But by August, we knew we really couldn’t do it. So we wanted to think of a way to just continue donations to hunger relief and the fun and joy of pie in a COVID-friendly way.” 

To that end, this year’s South Side Pie Challenge, subtitled “Pie it Forward,” is taking place remotely. Bakers who  register pay a minimum $20 fee, donated to a local food pantry of their choice. The event, which began on Oct. 15, runs until Nov. 30. 

Participants will bake a pie for a friend or neighbor of their choice and deliver it to them; the recipient of the pie is then loosely obligated to bake two pies to keep the chain moving. (Think of it as a pie-ramid scheme.) 

Contributions, both baked and eaten, can be tracked on a Pie Map hosted on the challenge’s website. So far, donations and pies have been made in five states and Canada, the latter a lemon pie created and consumed in the Vancouver, British Columbia, metropolitan area. 

About $600 (and 20 Canadian dollars) have been donated to pantries so far, including nearly $400 to the Hyde Park/Kenwood Hunger Programs. 

“To me, it’s all about the momentum of positive social interaction and kindness and encouragement and also, you know, really highlighting these hunger relief organizations all over the country that have been super stretched,” said Vassilatos. “They’re doing more than they’ve ever done.” 

Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks that includes the Greater Chicago Food Depository, projects a shortfall of 6 to 8 billion meals over the next year, according to an article from the Washington Post in early October

“For those who still have jobs and who are still somewhat afloat, they can certainly afford to step up and support an organization to the tune of 20 bucks,” said Vassilatos. 

To register for the challenge, or for more information, visit


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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