Unlikely hero provides meals to neighbors in need
Un-paid do-gooder partners with powerful allies to fight summer hunger.
Every day of the week, Nilsa Adorno proposes two plastic tables under a white tent outside her home. She stacks boxes of prepared lunches to prepare for the afternoon rush. When the afternoon arrives, a rattling of the flip-flops can be heard and the kids rush to a single line.
For 12 weeks during the summer, Adorno distributes free lunches and snacks to 45 area children, ranging in age from 1 to 16.
“Their families rely on school lunches, so that in the summer the fight, and can’t always afford to feed them,” said Adorno.
Supported by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Adorno, a mother of seven, is an unpaid “do-gooder” that, together with the church last year to serve as a block leader for the summer meals program.
Nilsa Adorno serves an average of 45 children each day in its Franklinville community.
Food insecurity, which is the lack of reliable access to affordable, healthy foods, prevails in Philadelphia. According to the Archdiocese’s Nutritional Development Services, 22 percent of Philadelphians don’t know when the next meal. And for children at school, the hot summer months can prove to be the hungriest time of the year.
Brooke Mullen, community director at the archdiocese’s Nutritional Development Services (NDS), said the program began almost 45 years ago as a hot soup to hand out. But it has grown, ” she said, and now produces about 800,000 meals. There are about 20 feed from sites such as Adorno’s, Mullen said.
“Our sites range from YMCA’s, police stations, schools and businesses, but block leaders as Nilsa, who set up a table in their community, help us reach a group that may otherwise go new,” Mullen said.
Nutritional Development Services partners with approximately 450 – 500 sites in Philadelphia and the five surrounding provinces. To be eligible for the Summer Meals program is based on the area in order to qualify and is not child-specific. A site that is eligible to participate and receive meals without cost, as long as the nearest public school must be at least 50% of their students free or reduced-price meals during the school year.
The meals dropped off every morning, served cold and ready to eat.
“They have good food I get to try new things,” said Annabel Salvador, 12, who lives down the street and attends the lunch program daily with her younger sisters. “I really love the snacks, but they are name-brand [items] as you see in the supermarket.”
Students are often served sandwiches, low-fat chocolate milk, fruit, a snack and a juice box, followed by a snack an hour later in the afternoon.
All meals are every day “ready to eat”, and no preparation is required. The Sites need to serve about 25 children each day and complete daily paperwork to be submitted to the NDS on a weekly basis.
Adorno, a self-proclaimed big kid, connects with the children by the water balloon fights and block races. And they earned the respect of the Fifth Street mothers and fathers.
“I know what it’s like [in the fight]. I can no longer work due to my youngest son’s disability,” Adorno said. “The launch of this program has helped me as much as it helps them, where the children makes me a more patient mother and a better person.”
Many of the children who frequent the lunch break not to summer camp or go on a vacation. Thus, Adorno makes the most of their time by setting up activities for the children after their 3 hour lunch break.
“My core group of kids hanging around after lunch, so I began to ask their parents if it was OK to have a mini-camp for them,” said Adorno, “They agreed, and on the first day of the summer I had each child write down one activity that they would like to do and now I surprise them with something new to do every day.”
For Annabel, “Mrs. Nelly’s” house is on camp.
“It is hot and no one wants to be stuck in the house, so we come here to play and talk with the other children,” she said.
While Adorno does not discuss hunger with the children, she sees a difference in their energy level after eating.
Adorno said that many will be comforted to know they will ask no prying questions, but will be a game, a smile, and, most importantly, a meal.
Talia Kirkland is a multimedia reporter based in Philadelphia, Pa.