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The 100 Pies Project aims to help folks experiencing homelessness 

A math problem worth solving

What if we lived in a world where pie solved the world's toughest problems? Citizens of this utopian pie-dom could use the confection to end world hunger, eliminate war and stop human suffering.

What if, right? Despite how idealistic that may sound, Nate Cerbelli is a Charlottean on a mission to help the homeless with, you guessed it, pie. Cerbelli is the creator of the 100 Pies Project, an initiative aimed at getting folks off the street, one pie at a time.

You may have seen him on a Saturday morning behind a booth at Atherton Market representing North End Opportunity Farms, an urban farm off North Tryon Street he started last year, now referred to as Opportunity Farms and the umbrella under which his current project sits. During the warmer months, the silver-haired Cerbelli could be seen lugging boxes of produce to market in his trademark attire, a muscle shirt and jeans, and selling fresh food to eager locavores in the name of helping the homeless. His ultimate goal was to employ homeless individuals through the farm model. Unfortunately, the farm idea only afforded one person a chance to leave the shelter for a short three months, which didn't touch the more than 2,000 people who are currently experiencing homelessness in Charlotte.

Cerbelli was undeterred. He partnered with the now defunct Fourth Ward Bread Company and began selling strata topped with the farm's produce, which sold like hotcakes at Atherton Market. That got him thinking. What about locally sourced value-added products? A strata was a pie of sorts. What if he could rearrange his model to help the homeless by selling pie?

After doing the math, Cerbelli figured that if he could get 14 businesses to commit to buying a pie a day, seven per week, he could offer an individual a place to live, three meals a day and a stipend of $100 per week. (Technically, according to that calculation, 98 pies would do, but The 98 Pie Project just doesn't have the same ring to it.)

Cerbelli found a partner in Sladjana Novakovic, the owner of Nova's Bakery in Plaza Midwood, to bake the pies. He researched locally milled flour and settled on Boonville Flour, from wheat grown in Dobson, North Carolina, and when he can, seasonal produce from area farms. Nova's bakes and delivers the pie, and Cerbelli is in charge of getting local businesses on board. Since the initiative launched a few weeks ago, Cerbelli has added the Holiday Inn Center City and the Hilton Center City hotels to his client list.

"The 100 Pies Project is something we can rally behind," says Clark Wade, food and beverage director at the Hilton Center City, who first met Cerbelli through the urban farm. "It's good product for a good cause."

Hilton Center City serves the pie at Coastal Kitchen and Bar, the hotel's in-house restaurant. A table topper proudly displays Cerbelli's mission, something he gives to all participants.

Cerbelli will tell you that he never intended to start an urban farm and that he certainly didn't aspire to be in the pie business. But, ever since he was a child, his heart has always led the way. So far, he is 21 pies into his 100 pie goal.

That's progress through pie.

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