As Newtown, Connecticut marks the end of the first week since the horrific shooting of Friday, December 14, the cliché of “new normal” is already making the rounds in conversations about “where do we go from here?” But the pain is still so raw; the families who lost loved ones are conducting funerals and struggling with crushing loss and the need to somehow carry on. The town is besieged by media of every kind and the sorrow and shock that pervades the town has become overwhelming. It’s likely to be that way for a while.
So what do you do if you’re a person who wants to help; who wants to offer comfort and just a little bit of warmth and human connection? If you’re Beth Howard, you pack up your pie truck with 240 apple pies and drive from Eldon, Iowa to Newtown, Connecticut to bring just a little comfort to a grieving town.
And how are the folks of Newtown taking to the “pie lady”? According to CNN’s Eatocracy, Beth’s comfort food did exactly that:
“People smiled today,” she said. “And that alone was worth the drive.”
So just who is this “pie evangelist,” as she is known? According to the bio on her site, Beth Howard is a woman who just happens to love pie. Some 11 years ago she stumbled into a market in Malibu, California looking to buy a slice only to discover they were out and “too busy to make any.” She suggested they hire her and, given her Midwestern roots with its pie-making heritage passed down by her grandmother, her skills were good and her confidence was high…they did hire her.
She spent the next year building her “pie clientele,” later hosting pie parties and putting her journalistic skills to work blogging about her cultural and culinary adventures along the way. She relocated to Eldon, Iowa, where she has built a literal pie kingdom, producing “This American Pie” (a docu-reality series focused on pie as a tool of love and compassion), organizing charitable events (yes, that involve pie!), selling pies from the “Pitchfork Pie Stand” in front of her house, throwing her pie parties, and writing (she has a book out called Making Piece, a memoir of love, loss and pie). Clearly this is a woman who’s clear on her brand!
Given this immersion in the world of pie, it’s not hard to extrapolate that when she saw the misery in Newtown, she was inspired to bring her particular brand of comfort to the people suffering there. She put up a post about her plans on Facebook and quickly raised $2000.00. With those funds in hand, she packed up her 24-foot-long camper emblazoned with her logo, picked up a friend in Chicago, and stopped in Flanders, New Jersey, where a battalion of bakers had been busy: 240 apple pies were ready to go.
“They were making pies for Newtown because of this one Facebook comment,” she said. “That was a powerful thing.” (Source)
Fully stocked, she headed east:
They went straight to the Newtown Youth Academy where therapy dogs helped children cope with the horror at their school. Parents were there too. One mother said she realized she hadn’t eaten since before the tragedy. She was glad to eat apple pie.
Howard knows about grief: Her husband, Marcus Iken, died three years ago of a ruptured aorta. She poured her grief into baking pies.
“Why pie? Answering that is about as easy as explaining why seemingly healthy Marcus dropped dead at the age of 43,” she wrote in her book, Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie. “If only the answer was as easy as ‘It was his time.’”
Relaxed in her pie-filled RV, she elaborated. “What I learned is people don’t like to talk about grief,” she said. “That’s a big reason why I’m here.”
And the people of Newtown, whether they wanted to talk about their grief or now, were happy to see her. People have knocked on her door, some have requested whole pies for their families; others simply enjoy stopping by to enjoy a piece in the company of the “Pie Evangelist.” [To watch a video of her arrival in Newtown, click here.]
When horror seems just around the corner and anger often guides the debates stirred in its shadow, it’s sometimes easy to forgot the little moments that add up and matter, particularly when a family, a community, a town are attempting to recover from a tragedy such as this. Because of both her culinary skill set and her personal perspective on this kind of grief, Beth Howard seems perfectly positioned to offer them some comfort in the form of a perfectly baked pie.
“If I just keep slicing pie, that helps me. It’s not a cake that you make with a little mixer. This is something made by hand,” she said. “The pioneers made pie; the pilgrims made pie. It’s about endurance. It’s about nurturing. It’s about simplicity. It’s about nostalgia. And ultimately, for me, it’s about sharing and it’s about giving.”
And odds are the people of Newtown are touched by her generosity, enjoying a moment of welcomed sweetness with a slice of her apple pie.
[If you’d like to make a contribution to Beth’s pie crusade, click here.]