Feeding the forgotten: FTN & 100 volunteers prepare meals for those in Collier, Lee
Tony Mansolillo feeds the forgotten. His mission hasn’t been easy. Obstacles kept getting in the way.
But now he’s finally got a new home to keep his quest going. Mansolillo, 76, feeds people who don’t have vehicles to get to food pantries. He feeds those without electricity who would have no use for a food pantry box of pasta, meat or vegetables they can’t cook. He and about 100 volunteers prepare homemade meals from scratch.
Then they pile in cars and vans and set out to deliver nutritious meals of meat or noodle casseroles, meatloaf, chicken, lasagna, sausage and peppers, polenta with a homemade classic Italian Alfredo sauce and more.
It all began in March 2020 when Mansolillo heard about a woman who uses a wheelchair in need of a meal. He brought one to her.
"By the end of the week, I had 21 people to help,” said Mansolillo, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force.
Now he feeds about 500 of the area’s most needy, five nights a week. Mansolillo turned the kitchen in his home into a major production of cooking and packing meals and created his 501(c)(3) nonprofit that he calls Feed Thy Neighbor.
But three months ago the gated community in Naples where he lives fined him $1,000 and forced him to stop. The community fined him because it wanted him to stop cooking at his home because of the increased traffic from volunteers. He lives on a cul-de-sac and, apparently, people complained about extra cars.
Mansolillo didn’t want to leave people hungry.
“We made sure we never skipped a day,” he said.
A friend lent him a carriage house by Everglades Boulevard east of Interstate 75. Mansolillo installed air conditioning and new electrical wiring to get the kitchen going.
But it wasn’t easy working out there. Now his charity has a new home. St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, 7070 Immokalee Road, in North Naples recently offered its kitchen. The Rev. Jonathon Evans has been leading the church for the past three months and said it was the perfect partnership.
“When I was interviewing here, I looked at this kitchen and saw it was not being used, and I thought there is a lot of potential here,” Evans began. “I got a message on Nextdoor that Feed Thy Neighbor was looking for a kitchen, so I gave Tony a call and next thing he is over here and we are looking for the possibilities.
"I want this place to be used for good. We are a ministry doing good for others. Our church is feeling proud to be a host for this and be in a relationship with them.”Mansolillo is also now able to use the kitchen at the Bonita Springs Lions Club to make even more meals. His meals are delivered to people in both Collier and Lee counties.
“It’s the homeless, and we service a lot of the real poor trailer parks,” Mansolillo explained. “Some have electricity and some don’t. There are a lot of children there and the children are important to us.”
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Mansolillo’s cell phone is full of photos of people he has helped. There’s a photo of three young boys whose mother is in Guatemala and whose father works very late and has no one to prepare meals. There’s a photo of a tiny boy who was so hungry he sat down right where he was handed the food and began stuffing it in his mouth.
Then there are photos of the homeless. As Mansolillo scrolls through the pictures, he points out some of the stories that stand out to him: The lady he found lying under blankets behind a shopping center who had not eaten in two days, the elderly veteran who told him Mansolillo’s meals are the only thing he gets to eat each day.
He finds the homeless in the woods, behind shopping areas and near a bus depot. He sees them sleeping on cardboard or under blankets. He said the trailer parks he visits are not far from the wealthy downtown Naples area. Meals are delivered Monday through Friday.
One recent Friday, Mansolillo tried to load people up with extra food to help them get through the weekend. He creates old favorites and new recipes he finds on the Internet or from his volunteers. The mission is to make filling meals.
“These casseroles and hash-type dishes, they love them,” Mansolillo said. “It is a favorite in the field, that and pasta. It is a stick-to-the-ribs meal, and for a lot of people it is the only meal they get that day.”
They don’t stop for the holidays. For Thanksgiving he and his volunteers delivered about 700 turkey dinners.
“It’s growing like crazy,” Mansolillo said.
“We do the poor, the hungry, the homeless,” said volunteer Dianne Glick. “To us it doesn’t matter. We take them all.”
Mansolillo said he’s never been scared, even when he traipses though homeless camps after dark. He said once people see he has food, they are all very welcoming. He doesn’t fear disease either.
"I don’t know how I didn’t catch COVID," he said. "I have been out in the field all the way through. I think God takes care of me.”
Originally from Rhode Island, Mansolillo has loved working in the kitchen since childhood, but his career is in real estate development. Mansolillo has lived in Naples since 1988.
He is currently working on a major project on Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs that includes condos, restaurants and retail. He is also a former board member of Nicaea Academy of Naples. The disabled veteran hasn’t let his war injuries from Vietnam stop him from his mission.
When he first began Feed Thy Neighbor, Mansolillo paid for everything from the food to the cookware. He doesn’t want to reveal how much he has spent, but it is a lot. Now he still donates money, as well as time, but he also receives lots of donations. People bring him carloads of food and send checks so he can buy more. All donations are from individuals.
Mansolilllo does not get food from any food banks. Right now that allows him to feed about 400 people in Collier County and another 100 in Lee County. Mansolillo knows there are a lot more people that need a hearty meal, so he is hoping to help even more.
“We don’t care who they are, if they are hungry we want to feed them,” Mansolillo stressed. “It is very simple, we feed everybody. I love every one of them. I am doing the best I can for them.”
To donate or volunteer, visit feedthyneighbor.us/ or call Tony Mansolillo at 239-269-8000.