It is rare for an event to bridge Forest Park and Oak Park and take place over a two- day span. The Food Aid Festival 2023: A Musical Festival to Combat Food Insecurity will take place at Exit Strategy Brewing Company in Forest Park and Scoville Park in Oak Park. The festival kicks off at Exit Strategy on Aug. 26 from noon to 9 p.m. It will feature live music and food from a variety of vendors. Tickets are $20 for adults, kids under 12 are free. 

Katherine Valleau of Exit Strategy has been passionate about helping the hungry since she was in high school. Members of her marching band conducted food drives and supplied food to shelters. “I saw the impact hunger has on people.” For Food Aid, Valleau is partnering with Donnie Biggins, who books bands to play at the brewery.  

Biggins is hosting the second half of Food Aid on Aug. 27 from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Scoville Park, Lake Street at Oak Park Avenue. It will feature a line-up of local musicians and a panel discussion about food insecurity conducted by WBEZ personality, Taylor Nazon. Fred Hampton, Jr. is among the panelists. Festival-goers are encouraged to make a $20 donation and to purchase food from nearby restaurants.

This is the second year Biggins has hosted a Food Aid Festival. Last year, they held a two-day event at the Kehrein Center for the Arts in Austin. Oak Park activist Anthony Clark was on hand and proceeds went to Community Bridges. The cause was serious but the event was fun, “Like a high school reunion.”

Valleau is also promising fun at the brewery. “We’re going to do a beer release that day. It will be a golden ale with citrus characteristics.” Besides quaffing beer, customers can sample brisket sandwiches from Umamicue, pizza from Dark Horse Grill and empanadas from Papa’s Chicago. These vendors are donating 10% of their profits to Food Aid, while the brewery donates 20%. Proceeds from Food Aid will benefit Unity Fridges, the Austin Eats Initiative and the Westchester Food Pantry.

Besides enjoying a variety of food and brews, patrons will be treated to “music from stem to stern.” Oak Park’s School of Rock will kick off the outdoor concert, followed by Biggins’ band, The Shams Band, The Heavy Sounds and Cheryl Tomblin. The School of Rock will also play at Scoville Park. They will be joined by Fury, a hip-hop artist from Austin, Michelle McGuire and a Fleetwood Mac tribute group called Second Hand News. 

Fury performing at Food Aid 2022 | Photo by Chris Ocken

“There’s no point in having a business if you can’t do good,” Valleau said. Biggins is also benefiting others with his business, Harmonica Dunn. Several of his musician friends are forgoing their fee or accepting a lesser amount.

Biggins first became concerned about food insecurity during the pandemic. He found it shocking that 50% of Austin residents lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. His goal this year is to raise $10,000 and hopes to make Food Aid a yearly event.

Festival goers can visit to purchase tickets or make donations.

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