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Rick Carlisle spearheading new 'Drive & Dish' initiative to help combat food insecurity in Indy
They have $530,000 committed, which allows for it to be fully funded through next year. With help from the community, they're excited about the growth potential.
When Rick Carlisle returned to Indianapolis in 2021, excited for his third stint with the Pacers and second as head coach, he wanted to do more. Beyond helping the team develop and win on the court, he had something more in mind.
He just didn’t know what.
So Carlisle met with Corey Wilson, vice president of community engagement for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, and expressed his desire to do something “that would be meaningful, that would be useful, that would be needed, that covered a wide cross-section of the needs of this city or this county,” Carlisle said.
Wilson joined the Pacers in March 2020, just as the pandemic began to impact everyone, so it limited outreach for a while. More than a year later, after Carlisle was hired, Wilson remembers Carlisle’s mission-driven focus — much like with his team on the floor.
“One of my first conversations with him was, ‘Hi, nice to meet you. I want to do something,’” Wilson shared. "So I had to calibrate getting to know somebody new, who’s a head coach, but also trying to figure out what his passions were.
“It’s been a while of thinking about what is the right fit. Because what we try to do is find something that is across ethnic barriers, across economic barriers — all of the different things — and food is that one thing. It’s the common language that everybody has some affinity for.”
More than two years later, and a few weeks after Carlisle signed a contract extension with the franchise, he announced a new program launching in exactly two months to make food — one of life’s basic needs — more accessible to local residents in need.
Inside the basketball gym at Christamore House in Haughville, just four miles west of Pacers headquarters, Carlisle was joined on Wednesday by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and other community leaders to announce a cause that he’s quietly been working on for the past few years.
It’s fitting, too, that the coach of the NBA’s top assisting team is handing out another one before the holidays.
Beginning on Jan. 15, the Drive & Dish initiative will distribute 1,000 boxes weekly to eligible residents complete with eggs and produce, along with helpful items such as recipes, spices, kitchen tools, specialty food items and a cookbook. At both sites — either Christamore House and Edna Martin, 37th Place — there will be other action items like cooking demonstrations and health/wellness resources.
“Carlisle’s commitment to community and passion for addressing issues like hunger sparked this initiative,” said Mark Boyle, the longtime radio voice of the Pacers. Not only did he emcee this event, but he’s also a contributor after previously mentioning to Carlisle how he was looking to get involved in something.
Food insecurity impacts one out of every four residents in Marion County (242,000 people) and about 21% of the African-American population, twice as much as the overall population.
“There were a lot of things that needed to be addressed,” Carlisle said, “but food insecurity is something that spans a wide range and it’s something that is all-encompassing.
While Carlisle is spearheading the program, it takes a team effort to get it done. Other contributors named include the Simon family, Pacers Foundation, the Colts and owner Jim Irsay, and Klay South of USA Up Star.
A total of $530,000 has been committed, a remarkable starting point and one that allows for the initiative to be fully funded through the first year.
“Indianapolis and Indiana has a spirit of Hoosier Hospitality and we want to help,” Wilson said of the collaboration. “That’s replicated here, but I think this is on a different scale with our sports teams and other organizations coming together in this way is phenomenal. And remarkable that coach is the catalyst for making this happen. It’s really amazing and an impressive investment.”
Households eligible for the program (with low access and low income) are based on zip code. The first delivery is two months away, but the program is underway and the registration link is live at indyfoodpolicy.org.
Christamore House: 46214, 46221, 46222
Edna Martin, 37th Place: 46202, 46205, 46218
(Christamore House, by the way, will receive a refurbishment as part of an All-Star legacy project. An upgraded basketball court and wellness space, along with a new STEM lab.)
Carlisle has gotten involved behind the scenes before, like in Dallas where he partnered with Mothers Against Police Brutality. He’s the driving force behind Drive & Dish, helping to fund it and recruiting others to contribute. All while coaching the Pacers.
This is something he is very passionate about.
“It was a matter of figuring out what was the best formula in Indianapolis,” he said. “(Assistant coach) Lloyd Pierce helped me a lot. Lloyd has a great lens for this kind of thing. Corey has put in an incredible amount of work into it. The support we got from the Simon family has been great.”
If Wednesday’s announcement was any indication, the wide-ranging support for the program will be there. More than a dozen staff members from the Pacers were in attendance to support Carlisile’s efforts, including assistant general manager Kelly Krauskopf and assistant coach Mike Weinar. Plus, Aliyah Boston and Erica Wheeler from the Fever. Rachel Simon represented the Simon family.
“The folks from basketball know this — there’s been texts at midnight, there’s been texts at 9 am, there’s been text of ‘come down now’ to think about this program,” Wilson said with a big smile. “When his mind is focused on it, he’s about it. I appreciate his thoughtful questions and the way that he approaches this. It’s not just, ‘I’m writing a check, go make it happen.’ He really wants to be involved.”
Carlisle has now been back in Indy for two-plus years and his wife, Donna, now joined him since their daughter left for college. Over the last year, he’s regularly visited Penn Station in Carmel on game days. While there, he’s trying to build momentum for fan support. He talks with residents and brings Pacers tickets to share.
“It became a little bit of a thing,” he admitted. “We’re doing everything we can to create a movement — with the Pacers, with the Fever…”
And now with local residents who will receive help thanks to this collaboration with the Office of Public Health & Safety in Indianapolis.
The Pacers had the day off from practice on Wednesday after they returned from Philadelphia overnight. They’re coming off a big win over the 76ers, part of a four-day road trip and a stretch with seven games in 12 days. Once in season, there’s no true off days; there’s always work to be done.
Yet here was Carlisle standing side-by-side with city leaders to announce a program that he hopes has staying power.
“This is just the beginning,” Carlisle said. “I plan for this initiative to carry on as long as I’m here coaching. I’m signed up for several years so that’s gonna be the plan.
“I’m excited about the possibilities of growth. I really want this to be a million-dollar-a-year effort — and I think we can get there. I know there’s people out there that want to be involved in something like this.”