Cheltenham man battles childhood hunger and stage 3 cancer at the same time

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Cheltenham man battles childhood hunger and stage 3 cancer at the same time
"He's always giving, giving, giving. All you gotta do is ask Cecil!" The 53-year-old is battling more than just childhood hunger in North Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) -- "It's a lot of things that's going on out here and I don't think that food should be one of the problems that we have," said Cecil Parsley.

Parsley, 53, decided he wanted to give back, especially after being diagnosed with prostate and pelvic cancer.

"Six years ago, they told me I had two years left," he said. "As you can see, I'm still here. But while I'm here, I'm going to do right by people."

Parsley is the President of the Moss Athletic Association in Northeast Philadelphia. Home to a brand-new playground and open space for children to play, it has been desolate since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I care about this place, y'know," he said. "My kids played football here...each of my daughters cheered here."

And once per week, he distributes free meals in the very same park.

"We got something out of this, so why not give back?" Parsley asked.

His mission began earlier this summer, working relentlessly every day to provide meals to children displaced from their schools. Fortunately, his operation was funded by Pennsylvania's Summer Food Service Program.

Parsley's funding was extended until October 23rd. Now, should his efforts continue, the funds must come from elsewhere.

"Once they're in school, I guess the schools will take over at that time," he said, referring to Philadelphia's free youth meal options. "Some of the kids that are homeschooled, they still need to get lunches."

The city of Philadelphia has addressed the lack of in-person school lunch opportunities. At least 49 schools offered meal pick-ups throughout the COVID-19 pandemic on Mondays and Thursdays. Additionally, six Philadelphia Housing Authority community centers opened their doors from 9am to 12pm every weekday. For more information, visit

Parsley acknowledges that this may not be enough for some families, especially those who have little access to leaving the house during these suggested time slots.

"I don't know what the remedy is. I'm just here to feed some kids and make sure everybody gets something to eat," he said.

Neighbors have also stepped up to collect food for multiple households at a time.

Astrid Benson often teams up with Parsley, both volunteering her time and benefitting from his free meal giveaways.

"It's hard trying to fix three different meals at three different times for different children," she said.

Her kids are taking virtual classes from home. However, each child has a different break time.

"They can't all just come out to run and get lunch," Benson said.

Fortunately, Parsley plans to continue his meal giveaways every Wednesday despite the lack of funding. For the next few weeks, he is relying on support from Chef Chipper's Mission Nutrition and the Griffin Gives Foundations.

Anyone interested in giving or receiving can reach out to the Moss Athletic Association at 5700 Torresdale Avenue in Philadelphia, PA.

RELATED: "Mission Nutrition" pops-up with weekly meal giveaways to children displaced by COVID-19

"When these schools got closed, my immediate thought was, 'How are these children going to be fed?'" Community Journalist Matteo introduces us to the chef behind Mission Nutrition.