100 Billion Meals Challenge - Ardent Mills

How Ardent Mills is Helping Fight Food Insecurity

From Rich DeLeo, Ardent Mills

All native Philadelphians are familiar with the Kensington section of the city. It was traditionally a tough working-class neighborhood that was home to the fictional fighter Rocky Balboa. In the Rocky movie sagas, Rocky goes up against seemingly unbeatable foes and always finds a way to vanquish his opponents through grit and determination against all odds. The Rocky movies are my personal favorites not only due to their inspirational nature but also because I am a native Philadelphian and Kensingtonian. Today, Kensington is a sad place …a veritable desert of pain and suffering. However, a real-life fight is taking place against a seemingly unbeatable foe, and two devoted and faithful sisters along with the help of many good people and businesses are finding a way to vanquish the enemy that we would know by the names of hunger, poverty, brokenness, drug addiction, homelessness, and despair. Sisters Kim and Kathleen Collins joyfully embrace the challenge to help those who live in the shadows of society and similar to Rocky Balboa, are winning the fight…. but the match is not over yet. It has just begun and we can help.

Ironically, Sarnelli House is located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia nestled in the middle of the block on Kensington Avenue right in Philadelphia around the corner from the house Rocky Balboa lived in during the very first Rocky movie. Kim has been living at the house for over 8 years and Kathleen for 3 years. They live amongst the community and serve over 1,000 meals per week to the needy. The people they serve are impoverished, addicted, homeless, broken and anyone else who society has forgotten. The first gift the Collins sisters give these people is calling them “guests”. They start with being given a dignity and validation that they are valued human beings.  The Sarnelli house is typically staffed with volunteers from many different walks of life including Religious people (i.e. Priests, Ministers and Nuns), retired and rehabilitated people alike….When I am blessed enough to volunteer one of the first things they advise is to NOT say to the “guests”, “how are you doing”…because in the words of weekly volunteer Tim Reilly, how would you be doing if you had to come for a free meal at Sarnelli house? This small little thought was a gift to me and a stark reminder…

When the “guests” arrive at meal time its hard not to see the toll life has taken on them…missing teeth, needle marks, scars and soiled, disheveled clothing are all clearly visible to anyone. Their appearance would move even the hardest heart to pity,,,but a funny thing happens once the doors to Sarnelli open…..these poor, forgotten souls who live in the shadows who society has largely forgotten begin to show life….sometimes they smile and even chat joyfully. The Collins sisters never judge or look down on any “guest”. They are valued and thanked for coming. Many “guests” effusively give thanks to the ladies who cook and clean for them. Kim usually does the cooking. Kathleen runs a clothing room that is open several days a week. They both help each other in all duties, large or small. They almost exclusively rely on donations and volunteers to keep their doors open. There has been amazing outreach in the city by individual donors, businesses and our industry is not excluded. I am proud to say that my company, Ardent Mills has a plant in Martins Creek, Pennsylvania that has “adopted” Sarnelli and provides food, clothing, supplies and financial support by holding a drive once or twice a year. Local businesses, churches and other organizations have done the same. The gratitude of the “guests” is moving. Sometimes, I have been lucky enough to take a moment and talk and pray (I am not ashamed to say that) with some of the guests. It really has had a profound influence on me….not only because someone shared their brokenness with me….but also because these are my people. I grew up in Kensington. I saw the neighborhood change and felt the pain every step of the way. When my parents eventually moved I never forgot about the many good souls who live there. As my friend and 4 time Amazon best selling Author, Danny Bader once said after volunteering at Sarnelli “This is definitely a place of the spirit”. I like that……

Sarnelli stories are numerous but I will share one: I can remember one summer day watching a frail, old woman who could barely walk, struggling to push her wheelchair into Sarnelli House with only 3 wheels and containing all her worldly possessions just to get a meal. To this day, I wonder what ever became of her….?

When the good people from the NPA asked me to share this story, I wanted to make sure that all you good people who have read this get a clear picture of the “fight” going on in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. To be clear, there is much pain and suffering in the world today and its hard to imagine it being worse anywhere else than in Kensington…. but this is not a story of defeat. It’s a story of victory. It’s a story of how many good people and businesses band together, reach out and contribute to ease the suffering of those most in need. It’s about good people, from good companies who stand up to the challenge of their business and share the fruits of their success with those most in need. It’s about how EVERY DAY the spirit of hopelessness is faced head on and defeated led by 2 faithful and devoted sisters. They don’t back down from the challenge…so why should we? My challenge to you and the entire NPA is “Who will you help today”? Can you find the Kim and Kathleen Collins in your community and make their story a story of triumph?” I have been in the industry over 35 years and I am a simple flour salesman. I love the industry and my job. It’s been an honor to meet the great people I serve. WE have GREAT people in our industry who know the meaning of hard work and are generous beyond words. We have people who have countless inspiring stories. We are unlike any other industry and I am proud to share our heritage with you. Lets all commit to expressing our gratitude by helping those most in need…..this is one fight that must be won and we are in the unique position to help. What will your response be?