'We didn't let anything stop us': Nonprofit feeds thousands after Hurricane Ian

Andrea Stetson
Correspondent

Hurricane victims in the poorest communities of Collier County are getting home cooked meals each evening as the non-profit Feed Thy Neighbor more than triples their output after the storm.

Wednesday evening founder Tony Mansolillo and his volunteers stood on Rosemary Drive in Bonita Springs giving out almost 500 meals. More of his volunteers were by Oakland Street and by the little trailer parks behind the Lions Club. They were also in Naples giving meals to seniors in the Section 8 housing at Goodland Arms, and by 5th Avenue North, Harmony Shores, Palm Lake, Bayshore and Holly Street. They gave away meals at an impoverished trailer park by Radio Road, in Golden Gate and by Goodland near Marco Island.

“Just as the hurricane was ending, we were cooking,” Mansolillo said. “No electricity, just gas, just with lanterns in the kitchens, and we cooked for two days just with lanterns in the kitchen. We didn’t let anything stop us.”

Bonita Springs councilman, Jesse Purdon, helped Feed Thy Neighbor hand out meals on Rosemary Street on Oct. 5.

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Mansolillo began Feed Thy Neighbor in 2020 during the COVID pandemic after hearing about people in the community that who were not getting sufficient meals. He aimed his non-profit at the homeless and the often-forgotten people. He found families that didn’t have transportation so they could not get to food banks or get help any other way. He originally made meals from the kitchen of his Naples home, but later moved to kitchens at St. Monica’s Church in North Naples and the Lion’s Club in Bonita Springs.

“We still do the homeless, but when we were doing just the homeless, we were doing 600-800 a day now we are doing 2,200- to 3000 meals a day depending on where we get food,” Mansolillo described.

After the hurricane he was able to get more meals from a Collier County facilities management group, a hurricane response group and from Supreme Master Ching Hai, an organization based in St. Pete. There is a variety of meals handed out from barbecue chicken and rice, and spaghetti and meatballs, to parmesan chicken and noodles.

“We serve really nice dishes,” Mansolillo said. “If you went to a restaurant and bought one of the dishes we made, you would pay $14.”

Wednesday night Feed Thy Neighbor handed out 480 meals in Rosemary Park. Many people came by on bicycle since they don’t have vehicles. Others walked by to collect a food.

Volunteer Remi Mendez translated for many of the victims that spoke Spanish.

“They are just saying thank you so much,” Mendez explained. “They really need it especially when the power was off and the market here was closed and they don’t have transportation to go to other markets. A lot of them were saying that without electricity it is very hard to make a meal.”

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Ashley Domingo was very happy to get meals for her family.

“It’s a good thing because we didn’t have lights and we were cooking outside with gas,” she described. “We were running out of gas so we were only cooking one meal a day.”

Bonita Springs city councilman Jesse Purdon helped hand out meals.

“Tony has been such an advocate for this city in times of need,” Purdon said. “His heart has always been with the city and taking care of our needs.”

Mansolillo is a local real estate developer. He is currently working on a humongous project on Old US 41 in Bonita Springs that includes condos, restaurants and retail, but has put most of that on hold to feed the hungry.

“This is what is important,” Mansolillo stressed. “It’s hard to be poor and then to be poor and have to worry about meals is even worse, and I don’t want any of these kids to be hungry because I was hungry when I was a kid. This is very rewarding.”