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Sunrise Project’s annual pie auction coming up Saturday

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Pecan, peanut butter, gooseberry, Asian pear, jujube and persimmon — people can have their pick of pie Saturday at Sunrise Project’s 8th Annual Pie Auction.

Volunteers are scooping the flour, rolling the dough, and carefully crimping its edges to prepare for the event, which is the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser. Co-founder and executive director Melissa Freiburger hopes the event will provide a financial boost during a year when donations are down, but need is up.   

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Started in 2014, Sunrise Project is a Douglas County nonprofit that provides free community meals, a porch pantry, community yoga, drop-in space for youth, and a garden, among other mostly food-centric resources. 

Sunrise Project’s Pie Auction is set for 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at 1510 Learnard St. in Lawrence.

Freiburger estimates the Sunrise Projects serves more than 8,000 meals per year. On average, it costs about $2 per meal, and more than a 100 people come and either eat picnic-style or grab-and-go on the first and third Wednesdays most months of the year. (This month, the third-Wednesday meal is canceled because the annual Pie Auction absorbs volunteer energy.) 

“We make 350 servings,” Freiburger said. “We invite everyone to come, no questions asked. People of all backgrounds come to picnic. (Some) take their food with them if they want, and we also deliver 130 of the meals to folks who have transportation barriers or have an illness, like folks who are on chemo who don’t want to get out.” 

Pivoting with community needs

During the pandemic, Sunrise Project volunteers served meals curbside. In 2021, volunteers returned to an in-person dining experience, opting to eat outside picnic-style instead of indoors.  

“Food is a really great way to bring people together, and so a lot of what we do does revolve around food,” Freiburger said. “Because we are small and we’re grassroots, we’re able to pivot with the community’s needs, and so that’s what we did when the pandemic hit in 2020. We listened to what the community was needing. And so we put the porch pantry out, we started doing community meals curbside and just thought of ways that we could still bring people together to create community care in the safest way possible.” 

The Sunrise Project is held together by two full-time staff, one part-time employee, community donors and volunteers. 

Melissa Mitchell, owner of A Yogi Kitchen, started volunteering at Sunrise Project at the launch of the pandemic. 

“I’m a chef and a yoga therapist, and so my yogis and I started baking for meals, and so I would just collect people’s baked donations, they’d make it home from scratch, and (I’d) bring it,” she said. “The first thing I really love about (Sunrise) is the community. … those of us who come together and cook, we’re our own little community. I just love that kindness and compassion. Those are the core values in yoga so that really connects me to the organization.”

Last year, Mitchell started making most of the bi-weekly meals. She also loves to unload food to restock the pantry. 

“It’s like a party to me,” Mitchell said. “I love the work. I look forward to going to Sunrise every single meal.” 

Mitchell, who has a restaurant background, says the volunteer chefs make deliberate efforts to provide flavorful meals that defy expectation. In the last couple of months, they’ve served apple-cabbage slaw with brats, coconut chickpea curry and vegan sushi bowls. 

“We’re not just throwing together anything just to put something in your stomach,” she said. “We really want people to experience new foods and flavors that they might not be able to just pick up anywhere else. And we make it with love so we want them to feel that.”

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The auction 

The fundraiser is more than just a pie auction: there will be live music, cornhole, bubbles, kids crafts and face painting. Yankee Tank Brewing will sell servings of beer for a $4 donation.

“The last hour and a half will be what’s always very entertaining, and it’s the actual auctioning off of the pies,” Freiburger said. “And we bring in a real auctioneer to come in and do it. So that’s a source of entertainment for people who are maybe not able to, you know, bid on those.” 

Bradley Chapin of Legacy Auction Group will be the auctioneer for the pies.

Contributed Photo

Among the pies for auction is a fruit punch Jack Skellington pie crafted by Amber Brown, owner of Amber Scullery Food Truck. 

Amber Brown

Brown said she wanted to bake a pie for the auction because the Sunrise Project’s mission resonates with her. 

“I (like) just the easy accessibility of if you need it, you can get it and there’s no-questions-asked type of a deal,” Brown said. “So I always try to contribute when I can.”

In addition to the auction, sliced pie will be sold for a donation. Everything else is free. 

“I’m so excited to see how many people show up this year,” Freiburger said.

Sunrise Project’s Pie Auction is set for 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at 1510 Learnard St. in Lawrence.

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Chansi Long (she/her), Lawrence life reporter, can be reached at clong (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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