- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - At 2:30 one recent afternoon, Neil Calore entered a small, white-frame house in Frankford, carrying a heavy bag in each hand.

“Brought you some dinner, Anthony,” he said, unloading pastries onto the kitchen table, then stuffing the fridge with the makings of seven meals: pork sausage, breaded chicken cutlets, fish with potatoes.

Anthony Strazzeri, 96, sat upright and inspected the pastry.

He had been waiting eagerly for Calore, who visits every week, delivering food and conversation - stories about family, politics, and how the world has changed.

Over the last 14 months, they have become good friends, said Calore, 52, a fire captain in the Far Northeast.

Once a week, Calore volunteers with Aid for Friends, an organization that provides the elderly and frail with home-cooked meals. The organization celebrates its 40th anniversary in October.

It was founded by Rita Ungaro-Schiavone, who was a volunteer social worker in the ‘70s. She was struck by the loneliness and desperation of elderly people, said Steven Schiavone, her son, who also serves as the group’s executive director.

She realized that many people were not able to cook their own food.

So one day she started to freeze leftovers from home and brought them to her clients.

“A lady called Minnie started to cry,” Steven Schiavone said. “She had not had a home-cooked meal for 10 years.”

Rita Ungaro-Schiavone soon expanded her deliveries. She drove from church to church to recruit new helpers to do the cooking, deliver the meals.

Today, the network counts 16,000 volunteers -cooks, drivers, visitors, coordinators, and office and maintenance personnel. They prepare meals and store them in freezers in churches throughout the five-county region, until they are picked up and distributed to the clients.

Last year, the nonprofit served 393,088 meals, 57,500 servings of soup, and 42,095 breakfast bags to 2,223 clients in the Philadelphia area.

“This service is absolutely free,” Steven Schiavone said. Every frail person who is isolated, homebound, and in need qualifies.

The demand is huge. “We are primarily limited by the number of volunteer visitors we can recruit,” Schiavone said.

The volunteers do more than feed their clients. “Spending time is as important,” Schiavone said. “People are desperately lonely.”

So the volunteers take time to talk or to fix something in the house. “We do the little things that help our clients to stay at home,” Schiavone said.

Neil Calore, for instance, has aided Anthony Strazzeri with the fire alarm and helped him wax his kitchen floor. Next he wants to find someone who will cut a bush that’s growing over the man’s back fence.

He would do more, Calore said, “but Anthony would not let me do much. He is a very independent person.”

So Calore sat down and listened to the stories his elder friend told: delivering a 300-pound block of ice to keep food cold as a youngster, becoming a sheet metal worker, sharing a life with his wife, Ellen.

Calore, whose wife has also passed away, said that talking to Strazzeri had aided him as he coped with his grief: “I was a volunteer to help him but probably he has helped me more.”

As Strazzeri put it: “We had something in common. He lost someone, I lost someone. Neil is a hell of a nice guy.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1rkGM6F

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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