I had the pleasure of chatting with NYC native, Toni-Ann Gardiner, who is using the pandemic as an opportunity to create, enhance her skills, and give back to the community that she loves…by baking pies!

Before the pandemic Toni-Ann was already working on her pie-making skills. It was around her wedding in 2019 that she received her first pie dish and she decided to teach herself this old world craft. She grew up in an Italian family where food was always shared with love but dessert was never as much of a staple. She began making pies for friends and co-workers and they were received with a very positive response. “People love a homemade pie,” she said. “It was bringing so many people joy that I just started baking more!”

Toni-Ann works for a Digital Marketing company in Manhattan but has been working remotely since March. “It’s freed up so much time,” she said. She’s no longer commuting long hours from Brooklyn to Manhattan which has given her the opportunity to enhance her cooking skills even more. “Getting good in the kitchen just helps in life,” she said.

It was in November that she decided not only could her cooking skills help her in life, but they could help others as well. “It probably came out of boredom honestly,” she said. “We thought, well, we have nothing to do, and we have a car. We can make pies and deliver them and do something good.” She positioned it as, if you want to buy a pie, I’m going to donate the money. “And people were so into it! It’s a heart warming experience because of the reaction I got from everyone. I can tell that people feel the amount of love that goes into it.”

People really are into it! The first pie was a traditional apple pie in honor of Thanksgiving. She managed to sell 30 and donated $900 to the Red Hook Initiative, a really great non-profit that gives so much back to the neighborhood she loves so much.

Those she donates to are not the only ones benefiting from her new philanthropic endeavor. This has forced her to practice more and be less of a stressful baker. “Things that I would get so worked up about are not such a big deal anymore,” she told me.

In the beginning of her pie making process, just rolling out the dough was stressful. But because people were ordering pies and she was basically forced to bake them, she had to let that worry go, and her confidence grew along with her skills. Now people are asking her to create and share new recipes! The fact that she was donating the proceeds took even more of the pressure off. “Even if they really didn’t like the pie, it was for a good cause so hopefully they wouldn’t complain.” But folks didn’t complain. They really like them and keep coming back for more! What she loves most of all is the happiness the pies seem to bring. When she arrives at the door of a smiling pie lover it makes her really happy too. “It’s such a dark time right now, and it just felt like a light moment to be able to do something, to make something, and give money somewhere that I think is an important organization,” she said. “It’s really just fun and heartwarming.” 

In December the proceeds from a delicious key lime pie went to Barc, who provide a safe haven for abandoned animals and work to find permanent loving homes for them. “The money went to fix a leak in the cat shelter,” she told me. “It warmed my heart to know that.”

She’ll be making chocolate cream pie for Valentine’s Day. If you are in the NYC area, she’s taking orders until February 1st. Visit @Piesbytoni on Instagram and DM her. All proceeds in February will be donated to Win NYC. Win is the largest provider of family shelter in New York City. They provide safe housing and critical services to help homeless women and their children rebuild their lives and break the cycle of homelessness.

And in case you miss February, keep an eye out on instagram for her March pie. She’s thinking savory. All I can say is “mmmm.” 

It’s just so great to hear the good gossip like this. That there are a lot folks out there that are really taking the lemons of this pandemic and making some delicious lemonade, or in this case, PIES!

If you’d like to give to any of these great organizations, visit the links below:

Red Hook Initiative https://rhicenter.org/

Barc Shelter https://www.barcshelter.org/

Win https://winnyc.org/

All photos by @piesbytoni.