PHILADELPHIA – On the worst day of Vito Baldini’s life, after scuffling on the streets of Philadelphia with drug addictions that were pushing him toward the grave, he was spotted outside a ShopRite by an old friend’s mother.
“Vito?” she asked, staring at the barely recognizable 23-year-old in his emaciated dissipation. “She saw me as no longer human,” Baldini, now 42, recalled, “but as a junkie who would never get better. The way she looked into me burnt into my soul.”
Within two years, he started clawing his way upward from that rock-bottom moment. He became a minister who helps those experiencing homelessness, and battles the pandemic by distributing food to hundreds of low-income Philadelphians.
“I was lost and scared and didn’t know how to live life,” Baldini said. “But I found something I needed: to commit myself to helping others.
“I love who I am today.”
Baldini isn’t alone in his thinking.
Among the city’s hunger fighters, the ordained cleric of the Protestant Reformed Church in America is known as a giant-hearted whirlwind who can comfort the destitute as easily as he can explain to financial donors why their largesse is critical. He’s the founder of Small Things, a nonprofit that distributes food from a 75,000-square-foot warehouse in Roxborough.
Since the pandemic hit, Baldini has transformed his organization from a tiny charity that gave out meals once a year to a six-day-a-week juggernaut that disbursed a “ridiculous” (Baldini’s word) 2.68 million pounds of food from last March through December alone.
“Vito and Small Things are an incredible example of an organization that has stepped up during the pandemic,” said Loree Jones, CEO of Philabundance, the hunger-relief agency that supplies food to Baldini’s organization. “They grew to a full-time operation since the onset of COVID.
“And it’s clear to me that Vito’s personal story informs what he does and how he does it. He brings a compassion, dedication, and empathy to his service, which is admirable and inspiring. He’s incredible.”