Il Poverello in Italian translates to “the little poor one.” St. Francis of Assisi – Il Poverello – was a wealthy Franciscan monk in the 13th century who had a tremendous yearning to become a knight. He was captured in battle and, after spending a year in captivity and in subsequent sickness, began to question the necessity of his worldly, material possessions. Francis gave away his earthly belongings and possessions to feed the poor.
The Poverello Center carries on this mission of service to the poor, sick and disadvantaged. This spirit of Franciscan philanthropy spearheaded The Poverello Center (food bank, thrift store and wellness center) in Wilton Manors, Florida, by founder Father Bill Collins, a Franciscan chaplain.
Collins cooked and delivered homemade soups and meals to HIV patients discharged in the Fort Lauderdale area starting in 1987. At this time in the mid‐late 1980s, HIV was ravaging major cities worldwide, as antiviral meds that could control the virus were nonexistent. He and other volunteers fed the HIV population and soon thereafter, Poverello’s thrift store opened in Pompano Beach, then moved to Wilton Drive and then, in 2012, to Dixie Highway.
Poverello offers a food bank for ALL clients who are 150% under federal poverty level (being HIV positive is NOT a requirement for obtaining food at the food bank). Poverello operates an 11,000 square foot thrift store in Wilton Manors, the proceeds of which are earmarked for the chronically sick including those with HIV. Poverello’s wellness centers offers clients free chiropractic services, free massage therapy, free barber/haircut services, free gym/cardio machines and free acupuncture services.
Poverello’s mission is the provision of nutritious food, services and basic living essentials for those with HIV and critical and chronic illnesses in South Florida. Initially, the mission of Poverello was limited to HIV patients, but five years ago, the organization expanded its service profile to diabetic, cancer and other comorbidities.
Currently there are 22 employees and 115 volunteers running the thrift store, food bank and wellness center. Poverello maintains association with area groups such as the Boys and Girls Club, the Police Athletic Leagues and the Food is Medicine Coalition.
Poverello receives donations from many local groups, including Publix, Our Fund, AHF, and grants from Broward County and many others to purchase food to give to clients who are eligible. Additionally, Poverello pays Feeding South Florida organization to deliver donated items to the food pantry. Finally, private food donors also contribute to the food bank on the Poverellos campus.
A unique feature of the Poverello’s food bank is the specificity of menu selections available to the recipients. Recipients actually decide upon their food, which is curated by nutritionist to be balanced and healthy. Other food banks simply select food for the recipients based on a preset list of food choices.
Pre-COVID Poverello volunteers numbered in 350‐400 per month range (now the number is 115 per month), and the pre-COVID paid employee number was 39 (now the number is 22).
Food recipients notify Poverello upon arrival by calling or texting, and the food is brought out to the recipient’s car. Door Dash is currently collaborating to deliver Poverello groceries to program participants.
The Poverello Wellness Center was closed for 11 months, but is now bustling with chiropractic services by Dr. Beth Cooper and Dr. Andreu Richardson, massage by Vincent, haircuts by volunteers from Dick’s Filling Station and a gym for program participants.
Poverellos helps clients with HIV maintain an impressive viral suppression rate of 92%, meaning viral load is overwhelmingly undetectable in the HIV Poverello population. They want to make sure that last 8% is linked to high quality healthcare.
The food pantry with support from the community will continue to feed thousands of Broward County residents and the thrift store sells an excellent assortment of clothing, furniture, books and shoes to raise money for the effort.
The ever-growing LGBT community in South Florida and the general population will continue to enjoy the philanthropic efforts from Poverello’s services and food supplies for years to come.