When people in the Philadelphia region hear the name Rita Ungaro Schiavone, immediately their thoughts go to Aid For Friends, the local non-profit giant that serves tens of thousands of home-bound seniors with healthy meals and friendly visits. Many do not realize that in addition to founding Aid For Friends 43 years ago, Rita also was the founding impetus behind the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Community Food Program back in the early 1970s.
In her work with the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations, Rita Schiavone saw the need to assist individuals and families in our area who were struggling to put healthy food on their table. She realized that local people were hungry and in need of help. Rita approached local parishes and schools and encouraged them to organize food collections to assist persons in need.
Under her leadership, a network of over 30 food cupboards sprang up to fill the need. Her own parish, St. Jerome, was one of the original 30 food cupboards and continues today to meet the needs of hungry people in the neighborhood of Holme Circle.
Rita was a real pioneer in the anti-hunger field. She saw a need and she realized that as Christians, we are called to feed the hungry and meet the needs of others. She realized early on that we serve the hungry “not because they are Christian and in need” but rather “because we are Christian and are called to serve.” Many of the original food cupboards were hosted in other churches and community centers. It was a truly an inter-faith effort!
Rita moved on from the Cardinal’s Commission in 1974 to found Aid For Friends but left behind a strong program that was later moved to Nutritional Development Services (NDS) in the late 1970s. The Community Food Program is a vital program of NDS that is a testament to the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
NDS’ Community Food Program staff challenges area parishes and schools to remember that we are all called to share our loaves and fishes with those in need. As a result, tens of thousands of pounds of food are collected each year and shared with a five-county wide network of food cupboards and soup kitchens.
Nutritional Development Services has retained very close ties to Aid For Friends through board participation and collaborative projects, such as the Breakfast Bag collections that began over 15 years ago as a joint venture. In addition, Aid For Friends has extended warehouse space to the Community Food Program, which has been a real blessing.
The staff of NDS extends their deepest sympathy to the Schiavone family and also extends their heartfelt gratitude to Rita Ungaro Schiavone, an early anti-hunger advocate who paved the way for other churches, synagogues and secular groups to become involved in the effort to feed the hungry and keep the modern day miracle of the loaves and fishes alive!
The staff of NDS is grateful for having Rita Schiavone and her commitment to the hungry in our lives. May she rest in peace.
Anne Ayella is the archdiocesan director for Catholic Relief Services and Lorraine Knight is executive director of Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.