Late one night in November of 2018, Stacey Altadonna was lying in bed trying to think of ways she could give back to her community. Suddenly, inspiration struck the Girard Estates resident: she would start a random acts of kindness club.
“We host all different types of events,” Altadonna said. “The goal for me is to educate the children on what it means to be kind, to be a good human, to not be a bully. Just some simple but powerful things.”
Altadonna, the executive chef of Fitzwater Cafe on 7th Street, has been teaching children’s cooking classes at the Columbus Square recreation center on 12th and Wharton streets for the past two years.
To start the Random Acts of Kindness Club (RAK), Altadonna decided to utilize her resources and asked recreation center leader Jessica Porco if she could host RAK club meetings at the center. Porco loved the idea and could provide the RAK club with a room to meet in twice per month.
Altadonna incorporated her love of cooking into RAK club activities by making food with the children at club meetings to give to local homeless shelters.
When the recreation center’s kitchen is not large enough to accommodate the club’s cooking projects, the RAK club meets at the Fitzwater Cafe, where Altadonna has worked for 9 years, to use its kitchen after hours. She said her husband, Angelo, along with some of the children’s parents, will deliver the food to local homeless shelters and nonprofit organizations, including the Sunday Love Project and Families Forward. Recently, the club made bagged lunches for the Covenant House on East Armat Street and Germantown Avenue.
“The children decorated the bags and wrote little notes on the outside,” Altadonna said. “We focus on our Philadelphia community, so everything we do has been local.”
The club is open to children 7 years or older and all are asked to sign an anti-bullying contract when they join. Giovanna, 10, who has been coming to RAK meetings since the club first started, agrees with the message of the contract.
“I was happy to sign it because bullying is just wrong,” Giovanna said. “It doesn’t make you feel good and it’s a good thing to stand up to.”
Giovanna’s favorite parts of the club are the projects they work on and helping people in need. She said the club is a good reminder to be thankful for the things she has and to be aware not everyone is as fortunate.
“We should be grateful because some people don’t even have a place to live,” Giovanna added. “They just wake up on the street and have to find a way to survive or go to a homeless shelter.”
Many of the other club participants have learned similar lessons through RAK. Charlie, 9, said she has learned new ways to spread kindness to those around them.
“It’s good to help people that need it,” she said.
Charlie’s mother, Danielle DiPopolo, said Charlie heard about the RAK club after she attended one of Altadonna’s cooking class at the recreation center. DiPopolo decided to let Charlie get involved when she expressed interest.
“She liked it from the start and wanted to go back the next time and the next and so on,” DiPopolo said.
DiPopolo said she is always willing to help Altadonna with RAK club events and donations. When Altadonna has asked for donations to give to charities, DiPopolo tries to collect resources from people whose children are not already involved in the club to spread awareness about it.
“I think what Stacey is doing is amazing,” DiPopolo said. “It is so important for this generation to understand what a difference they could make in other people’s lives if they don’t only focus on their own.”
Since joining the RAK club, Charlie has shown more compassion toward others. Charlie has helped collect items for different charity drives, including the Big Brothers and Big Sisters club, DiPopolo added.
Ava, 10, said she learned about the group from some of her friends at school, and has made new friends since joining at the club’s second meeting. She, like many other members of RAK, said the group encourages her seek out new opportunities to be kind.
“My favorite part about this club is that we get to make stuff for people who are less fortunate,” Ava said. “It’s not fair that we have all this stuff and then there are some people who don’t have anything.”
Ava now collects and saves spare change in a jar and periodically gives it to homeless people or anybody she thinks might need it.
Marianna, 9, said the club has taught her the importance of always being kind, no matter what. She said the group has given her lots of new ideas about how to do just that.
In addition to making food for those in need, the RAK club also helps individuals in the community who are suffering or in need. At the group’s March 11 meeting, the RAK club participants made get-well cards for Altadonna’s family friend Anthony, a union carpenter with cancer.
During this meeting, the RAK club also made paper flowers with Tootsie Pops stuck through the middle, resembling stems, to hand out at school.
“My mission with this craft is, ‘Love is sweet,’” Altadonna said at the meeting. “All of the children will be making enough of those flowers for their entire class.”
Altadonna said when the children pass out the paper flowers and lollipops, they will tell their classmates that they have just been “RAK’d” and to pass it along.
“I would just love the RAK Club Philly to continue to grow,” Altadonna said. “I’m always looking for new faces. We’re just trying to make a difference. Even though it might be small, that’s enough for me.”
Altadonna’s son and daughter, Matthew, 7, and Sophia, 9, also participate in the RAK club. Both children attend William Meredith Elementary on Fifth and Fitzwater streets.
On Feb. 25, the RAK club held a bake sale to raise money for Matthew’s basketball teammate Amir, who’s single mother tragically passed away, leaving his 18-year-old sister to care for him.
“This little bake sale turned into a grand event,” Altadonna said. “The entire community was here, there was a line out the door. In two hours we raised $6,000, which to me is a really big deal. We were just getting ones, fives and tens.”
Altadonna, a South Philadelphia native, said the success of the bake sale made her feel proud to be from the area. She said she hopes to partner up with the Sunday Love Project again in the near future to either cook for people in their facility or assist in raising awareness for those who are homeless or food insecure.
“I find this club to be incredibly rewarding,” Altadonna said. “It makes me think that this is my next career path, I feel like I’m meant to work with children. I leave here feeling like I made the community just a little bit better and hopefully that spreads throughout.”
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