Food on Front Burner, Development to the Back: Feeding the Hungry Takes PriorityJan 13, 2023 04:00PM ● By Andrea Stetson
Tony Mansolillo, founder of Feed Thy Neighbor, stirs a pot of meat sauce at the Lion’s Club in Bonita Springs. Every day he cooks food at the Lions Club in Bonita and St. Monica’s Church in Naples to prepare hundreds of meals for the hungry. Photo By Andrea Stetson.
Tony Mansolillo could be busy being a business mogul planning his huge development on Old 41 Road. He could be at home resting from his recent surgery and from his long list of medical problems. But instead, the 77-year-old is stirring a gigantic pot of meat sauce in the kitchen at the Lion’s Club in Bonita Springs.
What started off as cooking meals for a few poor people during Covid has snowballed into preparing more than 850 meals a day for the homeless, poor and, more recently, victims of Hurricane Ian.
Right now he and his staff with Feed Thy Neighbor, the volunteer group he created, make 500 meals at the Lions Club and another 350 at St. Monica’s in North Naples. He makes wholesome, filling meals such as stuffed peppers, chili, baked chicken or meatballs and spaghetti which he says is an all-time favorite. He concentrates so hard on making sure the people have enough protein, starch, vegetables and fruit, that he’s been ignoring his other development projects.
Mansolillo has been approved for 200 residential units and 29,000 square feet of commercial space near Old 41and West Terry Street. He recently acquired an old hotel downtown that he plans to tear down and redevelop. But none of it will happen right now.
“I am not a slave to those kinds of things,” he stressed. “I don’t have time right now between being sick and doing Feed Thy Neighbor. Do you know how many people depend on me? I gotta do it. Those little faces depend on me.”
He does plan on balancing work and volunteering in 2023.
“I will start working on it again right after the new year,” he explained. “I am not driven by that. I am driven by the pride the joy and the light, and I am a firm believer in it.”
He is driven to volunteer for hours a day even though he is 100 percent disabled, has titanium stainless steel in his back, just had a quarter of his kidney removed, suffered from a bout of mercer and is an acute diabetic.”
“It’s not the physical stuff, it is in his heart,” said Joe Jackson, Lions Club President, who lets Feed Thy Neighbor use the club for an expenses only price.
Mansolillo said his heart grows bigger every time he delivers the food.
“I love every one of the people out there and they give back to me with their smiles,” he described. “I bought a boy a stuffed toy and it was like I gave him a million dollars. One kid is so hungry, every time we come he sits right down on the sidewalk and eats it right there, and then I give him a second meal.”
Feed Thy Neighbor gives meals to people that are not usually served by other charities. They deliver to the poorest neighborhoods where many people don’t have vehicles to get to a food pantry. They deliver to the homeless, to addicts, to those with mental disorders and to veterans living in the woods.
“I feed them all,” Mansolillo stressed. “I feed junkies and drunks. It is just what it is out there on the streets. In this area people don’t want to know it exists.”
Since Hurricane Ian, he has stepped up his donations in Bonita Springs to people that still don’t have kitchens.
“We consider Bonita a special mission because there is real need here,” he said. “We got blown out with the hurricane. We had $52,000 in reserves and by the time the Red Cross came in 10 days after the hurricane, we had $64.”
All their money comes from donations. The food comes through the Harry Chapin Food Bank, the Midwest Food Bank and Meals of Hope. Feed Thy Neighbor is desperately looking for a truck with a lift gate so they can pick up more food at area supermarkets and food banks.
“Supermarkets require us to have 20 foot truck with a tail gate so we pay $1100 a week to rent the truck,” Mansolillo explained.
Mansolillo’s son Vinny is helping run Feed Thy Neighbor now.
“We feed everybody,” Vinny Mansolillo said. “We don’t care if you are a drug addict. We don’t care about your religion. We don’t care if you smell and they do smell. We do feed everybody. We do this stuff because it feels good. If the whole world did this, we would be a better place.”
Andrea Stetson has been writing for magazines and newspapers in Southwest Florida since 1995. She and her family live in North Naples.