June 1, 2021 - eBella Magazine Article: Men We Love
June 2021 Issue, see full article here:
For the Love of Humanity
Veteran Tony Mansolillo nourishes Naples neighbors, body and soul, through his Feed Thy Neighbor initiative
by Kathy Grey
In March 2020, the pandemic stopped everything, and Anthony (Tony) Mansolillo started a food movement that became so much more.
Mansolillo, 76, is a service-disabled veteran, but he doesn’t like to talk about that.
“I use a cane or a walker. But I do alright to keep going,” he says.
His Herculean strength is reserved for helping people in need.
Before Feed Thy Neighbor had a name and a nonprofit designation, Mansolillo was online more than usual because of the pandemic.
A lover of everything culinary, Mansolillo traded recipes with the online Nextdoor.com community. There, he connected with a lady who wanted to make one of his recipes but couldn’t reach her stove.
“She’s only 4-foot-8 and can’t reach the stove from her wheelchair,” Mansolillo explains. “I made the recipe and gave her half. Another Nextdoor neighbor asked, too. Then a Silver Star (veteran) asked for a good meal. The next week, we did 21 meals a day. Now it’s 300 to 400 meals a day out of my kitchen.”
Mansolillo serves people who are out of work, broke and hungry.
Serving the Unseen
As people in need of a good meal reached out to him, Mansolillo went out and found them, sometimes a stone’s throw from where more fortunate people were building million-dollar homes.
One Naples resident told Mansolillo she didn’t believe there were homeless people in Naples.
“I said, ‘What?’ But this was a nice lady. She just didn’t see it. It’s not that they don’t care,” Mansolillo emphasizes. “You’ve got to be out there every day in the streets with these people. Nobody should have to live like that. Not in a country this rich.”
One woman living in a Naples retail parking lot for more than six months went unnoticed by shoppers. She’s one of hundreds of people who receive Mansolillo’s home-cooked meals.
Above and Beyond
Feed Thy Neighbor has expanded its help and reach.
Mansolillo joined forces with Kristin Weardon during the holidays and distributed more than 100 gifts to people who had nothing.
“We met a girl and her boyfriend living in a car,” Mansolillo says. “She got out of the car and had no shoes on.” Mansolillo and his helpers bought her shoes and a pair of pants for her boyfriend so he could look for work.
“She has asthma, like me. She needed a nebulizer, but she was living in her car.”
Mansolillo found a nebulizer online that could be plugged into the car’s console. Ultimately, he says, “She ended up getting into a hotel, got a job. He got a job, too, and they got their kids back.”
Many of the homeless people Feed Thy Neighbor serves are addicted to substances that ruin their teeth. So Mansolillo makes soup.
“I cook the vegetables real soft and grind the meat so they can nourish themselves if they don’t have teeth. There’s no better feeling than handing somebody food who you know really needs it,” he says.
“One woman told me she was feeding her kids cereal and water and didn’t have enough to feed herself. She’d been working downtown as a bartender, living with a guy who bailed on her, leaving her with the kids.”
Because she couldn’t afford to register her car, she couldn’t get to a food pantry. She called Mansolillo on a Saturday. He went to Publix and bought her subs, a rotisserie chicken and microwaveable food.
“I brought her enough to get through Saturday and Sunday. We told her about Catholic Charities, and she got herself back on her feet, got back to work and they gave her enough money to register her car,” Mansolillo says.
“I feed everybody because ‘God don’t make no junk.’” That’s a saying he’s lived by since parochial school. “St. Francis gave up everything to help the poor and the needy. I think it’s a good way to finish up this life. And maybe they’ll make better decisions when they’ve got a full stomach. People will tell you it’s impossible. No, it’s possible.”
The Man Behind the Stove
Mansolillo moved to Pelican Bay in 1988. He later moved to an esteemed Naples neighborhood and remains active in his real estate and mortgage company. He’s connected with people in high places, most of whom are supporters of Feed Thy Neighbor.
But Mansolillo keeps a low profile, working “seven days a week, except when I’m asleep,” he says.
“One guy — a construction trucker — was disabled for months. He fell at home, broke three ribs and couldn’t claim anything. He had no insurance, couldn’t claim compensation.”
Feed Thy Neighbor stepped in.
“Now he’s going back to work and he’ll be donating to us,” Mansolillo says.
“I live my whole life for this. If I don’t feed them, who will?”
Still, Mansolillo can’t do it alone. Most of his snowbird volunteers have gone back north. He needs more helpers to cook, package and deliver meals to people who need it — for nutrition and for knowing somebody cares.
Mansolillo has many people to thank: The Collier Foundation; high-profile supporters; Meals of Hope, who provide 40% of his protein and vegetables; the couple who loaned their van for distribution through the summer; the checks that come in: “…sometimes $10; sometimes $1,000,” Mansolillo says.
And still, Feed Thy Neighbor spends $2,000 a week on Styrofoam containers and spices.
“I started this organization before we took donations and became a 501(c)(3). I started this out of my pocket, and I have to say it’s the best money and time I’ve ever spent in my life.”
To learn more about Feed Thy Neighbor, visit www.feedthyneighbor.us or
call Tony at (239) 269-8000