Chef Billy Manzo is the owner and proprietor of Federal Hill Pizza Company and founder of the nonprofit Chef’s Feeding Kids. Anyone who has met Billy knows his infectious energy and his excitement for life.
Billy grew up in Providence, Rhode Island–and he’s a true advocate for community engagement. Growing up, Billy recalls his home always being the place that his friends could come to and have a hot meal. For some of his friends, this was the only healthy meal that they would have all day, and that bothered Billy.
When asked if the issues he saw growing up in Providence were similar to what he sees today, his response was, “Unfortunately, yes. And it’s even more dire now”. He attributes this to the lack of emphasis on family and community in today’s society. Being that Chef Billy is so family-centered, he wishes to see more emphasis on family bonding as well as community partnerships. In Rhode Island, 12.8% (56,320) of households are “food insecure”, which means that families are unsure of where their next meal will come from due to lack of resources. This is a serious issue that hits close to home for Billy.
Even though Billy has always been aware of and concerned about underprivileged communities, he never considered starting a nonprofit earlier in life. However, as he grew older and had his daughter Ani, everything just started to come together. After becoming a father, Billy could no longer stomach the idea of any child going hungry, especially in his hometown of Providence. That is when the idea of Chef’s Feeding Kids was born, he even jokes that the idea came to him in the shower. Although he didn’t have a name for it at first, Billy knew that he needed to help alleviate the hunger plaguing children in his community, and he wanted to have chefs like himself taking a stand alongside him. He envisioned a way to help out local businesses by promoting their generous contributions alongside having an organization that would give back. Billy wants to promote the idea that a restaurant can receive recognition for its cuisine while being charitable at the same time. He recognizes that these small family run businesses are also trying to make their own ends meet, but also is fully aware of their duty to serve the community which they benefit from. Billy explains, “This idea of combining charity with business recognition is what is really going to set us apart, and is going to create an entirely new realm of our organization”. Billy plans on promoting this business through the creation of a blog called FoodBuzz, and it wasn’t hard to tell that this is truly something he is passionate about; he couldn’t help but smile when explaining how he envisions this will all come together.
So, you may be wondering, “How exactly are all of these moving parts going to work together to create something great?”. The design of the nonprofit is simple–chefs from well-known restaurants will become members of Chef’s Feeding Kids, and they’ll dedicate time serving the food insecure community, whether it through food drives like Lunch Break or with institutions such as the Ronald McDonald house. In return, FoodBuzz will run an article on that restaurant or chef highlighting their accomplishments. Billy knows that FoodBuzz is what is going to really separate him from the crowd and take Chef’s Feeding Kids to new heights because he firmly believes in giving credit where credit is due, just as he feels the need to give back to the communities which helped him. The membership funds are going to go right into running programs for kids in the community such as free cooking lessons and lessons on nutrition, in hopes of also working to diminish the rising childhood obesity rate in the country. Billy finds it concerning that majority of children in Providence cannot distinguish between what is a healthy diet and what is not, and he wants to help lay a proper foundation for kids everywhere. On top of this, they are also creating an internship program for high school students in the community to learn about the restaurant business, and they can then qualify for a $5,000 scholarship to pursue a business or culinary degree in higher education.
Now, none of this would at all be possible if Billy hadn’t met the perfect person to help him get the ball rolling on all of these fantastic plans. He interviewed countless people until he found someone who could understand his big ideas and that remarkable individual is Shelley Peterson. Shelley has helped Billy bring Chef’s Feeding Kids to life and together they are an unstoppable powerhouse that is going to make a real difference in this world. I am excited to watch Chef’s Feeding Kids blossom and grow into an organization that is going to change children’s lives, and the community, one meal at a time.
By Sara Murphy