Everyone deserves a dessert.
That’s Monica Chernin’s philosophy when it comes to Thanksgiving and for the last 10 years or more, she’s been helping make sure Culpeper families in need get their just desserts - pies.
The Culpeper Pie Project collects more than 500 pies each year, beginning after Chernin saw an ad in a local newspaper from the Culpeper Food Closet asking for pies one year. Since then, she’s taken it on as her special project and the response has been overwhelming.
“The initial request was that each person donate four pies,” Chernin said. “When the pies project started, we needed 500 pies. I thought if we could get 125 people to donate four pies each we could hit our goal. It’s expanded since then, because some years we need 600-700 pies.”
The pies come in all flavors and from all over Culpeper. Some are homemade, others are store bought, others just donate money so Chernin and her staff at her law firm can go out and purchase pies. The pies are distributed at the Culpeper Presbyterian Church Annex on Main Street on Nov. 26 from noon to 5 p.m.
There are rules through the Culpeper Food Closet on who can get pies - you’ll need a voucher - but Chernin makes sure that if someone needs a pie, they get it.
“We have our own rules, if someone comes in and they have a food stamp card and they don’t have a voucher - we’re not going to keep them from having a pie,” Chernin said. “Sometimes people come in without anything and we just ask them to come back at the end of the day to make sure the people who have the vouchers get theirs.”
Even with that demand, they always end up with extras. This year they’re giving some to Rev. Milton Branch Sr. and his congregation at Immanuel Christian Ministries who host a Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. Other pies go to Culpeper Presbyterian Church’s Manna Ministry while a dozen goes to Boxwood and others make their way to the Culpeper Senior Center and SAFE.
Chernin was baking pies one recent Tuesday morning, with her employee Karen Smith helping out. The smell of freshly baked pecan pie wafted through the air as they worked sifting together the ingredients for an apple pie.
Chernin admitted she’s been baking since she was 9 or 10 and while she had measuring cups out - most of her ingredients are put in via “touch,” as she’s come to know exactly how the dough should feel when she’s rolling it out.
Her love of baking is shared by many others in the community, and she’s never shocked by the response when the pies start rolling in.
“I’m not surprised because I’ve found one thing about this community - they do step up when there’s a need,” Chernin said. “What has happened over the years is that people don’t bake or they aren’t going to be in town - we’ve gotten cash donations and we’ve gotten $300 so far this year.”
The pies don’t have to be homemade, some even prefer the ones from the bakery. However, each pie comes from a place of love and that’s what makes it special.
“To me, Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday,” Chernin said. “It’s not an ethnic holiday, it’s not a religious holiday, it’s everybody’s holiday. It’s just really nice being based purely on kindness.”
The most popular pie is pumpkin, while Chernin’s personal favorite to make is pecan.
“When I left the North and came South, I learned to make a wicken pecan pie,” she said.
Her and Smith worked on two apple pies - making them from scratch.
“I was doing it before I started working for Monica,” Smith said. “I wanted to support Monica and her cause and help feed the community as well.”
Chernin said she loves to see the look on people’s faces when they get their pies.
“It sounds really trivial, a pie seems like a little thing but it does bring so much happiness,” Chernin said. “Most people are so appreciative, they walk out of there like they’ve been given the biggest gift. It’s such an easy way to help someone out.”
Chernin requests no cream or meringue pies, and sugar-free is always welcome. If the pies are homemade, she asks that the baker wrap and label them with the flavor.
Culpeper Pies Project will be collected Nov. 25 from 1 to 5 p.m. or Tuesday, Nov. 26 from 8 a.m. to noon. Pies will be distributed Nov. 26 from noon to 5 p.m. For more information or to make a cash donation, contact Chernin at email@example.com or call 540.825.2363. Pies can also be dropped off to Reigning Cats and Dogs up until Monday.