By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Hunger is a constant issue in society. No matter how good times are, there are always those poor souls who fall through the cracks and their needs must be met.

In times like these when money is tight, ministry to the poor must be redoubled.

In the past, “people who called for help mostly had a major emergency,” said Anne Healy Ayella, assistant director for Non-Government Programs and Community Relations at Nutritional Development Services. “This has shifted,” she said. “There are so many people who are working but still struggling to put food on the table.”

NDS is the archdiocesan agency that coordinates feeding programs for schools, parish food cupboards and other grassroots programs that feed the hungry. In addition to her work there, Ayella is also the archdiocesan director of Catholic Relief Services. She has been working against hunger all of her adult life.

It started back at St. Joseph’s University, where she received her master’s degree in health education and wrote a paper on malnutrition and childhood brain development. Active in social justice programs during her college years, she gave talks on the topic of hunger emphasizing the role of Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Originally from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in the Overbrook section, she attended school there and at the School of the Holy Child, Sharon Hill, before entering St. Joseph’s University.

She and her husband, Alfred Ayella, are parents of three children, Fred, Emily and Charlotte. They are members of Annunciation Parish in Havertown, where Anne has been a member of the parish pastoral council, and worked with such programs as the Advent Giving Tree and the Lenten Supper. After college Ayella began working for St. Joseph’s University and the former Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations, then headed by Msgr. Charles Devlin.

At the invitation of NDS director Patrick Temple West, she joined the staff of NDS in 1980, and like many of the agency’s staff, has never left.

Much of the food distributed by NDS comes through government programs. In 2008, Ayella estimates, more than 10 million meals were served through NDS in schools, summer feeding programs, emergency cupboards and food kitchens.
“NDS is a fantastic agency and under Pat’s leadership it meets new needs in creative, compassionate ways,” Ayella said. “I’m honored to work with feeding programs and I feel blessed to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Right now, Ayella sees the economy impacting food programs.

“Even the middle class has been affected,” she said. “In some ways there hasn’t been much of a reduction in giving, but there is a definite increase in calls for need. The cupboards are going through food very quickly.”

NDS and the many other agencies it serves are working to respond to this increased need, and Ayella is convinced they will meet the challenge. But they will not do it alone.

Her governing philosophy in such matters is summed up by Ephesians 3:20 – “Glory be to Him whose power working in us can do more than we can ask or imagine.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.