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Once addicted to heroin, this minister is now helping others as one of Philly's hunger fighters

Alfred Lubrano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Religious News

Baldini earned a college degree from Cairn University in Langhorne Manor, Bucks County, and a master’s from Missio Seminary in Spring Garden in Philadelphia.

He went to work at Liberti Church near Rittenhouse Square, where homeless people were sleeping on the steps.

Baldini had an easy manner with people who did without because he’d suffered, too. He understood instinctively that he could begin relationships with people through food.

“I’m Italian, fed by my grandmother,” he said. “Food is how people connect. I can’t solve poverty, but I can give someone their next meal. And to me that small act of love and kindness leads to change.”

He offered meals with no strings attached. Ultimately, he began volunteering at Bethesda Project, a Center City homelessness service provider and shelter.

“He had a deep connection to our guests at Bethesda,” said the organization’s CEO, Tina Pagotto. “He invited them to get involved at Liberti Church. He views meals as an entry point to forming relationships.

“Vito is good people.”

Baldini began Easter Outreach, a feeding program that gave away 148,400 meals every Easter for 10 years. Last year, he left his church to work with a network of churches. Then, the pandemic hit, and he came up with Small Things.

 

The name is based on a quote from Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

That Baldini has become a success after such personal travail is no small feat to Adan Mairena, pastor of West Kensington Ministry.

“I usually see the other side of that story,” Mairena said, “of people who try to make it but don’t. But Vito’s life is one of transformation, and that’s impressive.”

Mairena said Baldini delivers food to West Kensington with his sleeves rolled up: “He’s very hands-on, and he just wants to give away all that food as fast as he can, without red tape.”

After every delivery, Mairena said, “we call each other ‘brother’ and we say, ‘I love you.’”

Baldini just seems to inspire that kind of emotion: “I see God working inside him,” said Pastor Gabriel Wang-Herrera of By Grace Alone Christian Reformed Church in Frankford.

“His is just an amazing story.”

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