BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Two years ago Alphonse Bifulco was working at the Share Center when he saw a woman crying on the phone. She was yelling at her husband for taking their food stamps which left the family without provisions.
“It’s just like eating me up because I’ve been in that situation,” said Bifulco with a booming New York accent during an interview at the First United Methodist Church. “I been did that, you understand.”
He waited for her to get off the phone he said, and offered her some of the food they had at the Center. He told her if she went to the kitchen area, he'd give her enough food for her and her children. She never went. A week later he ran into her again and appealed to her to take the food.
“She came down there that night,” Bifulco said. “I filled her whole bag up with food. And we do feeding when we feed the homeless, so I said ‘bring the kids inside and let them eat.’”
Bifulco sat down with the family and got to know them pretty well that night. It was the first family he’d ever served. Since then he’s created holiday gift baskets for local families, giving his first few to 12 families in 2015. And this year, 22.
“I’ve always took, took, took. And believe me I took,” said the 49-year-old father of two. “I can’t see somebody go without. You know, if I can get it, I can get it.”
Bifulco said he had this same mentality when he was growing up on the streets of Brooklyn. Except he took, and stole, things for himself. He said he spent almost 30 years hustling and getting high.
“I grew up with two addicted [parents],” said Bifulco. “My mother was addicted to heroin, my father, and I still had a good childhood. I had a grandmother that took care of me. Family was always first no matter what the problem was.”
His mother always prepared food for him, even during her drug addiction he said. That bore in him the desire to do the same for others. So after serving that first family in 2014, he thought of new ways to hustle.
“I know how to cook,’” said Bifulco, with baked ziti and chicken parmesan being two of his specialties. “So I started cooking. What I do, I go around with flyers, whatever I’m cooking that day, and I tell ‘em ‘listen I need a minimum donation of $5 or whatever and you get a plate of food.”
The Fire stations in town were the first to sign up. They’d buy platters and platters of food. Then a local barber shop jumped on board and other organizations too. Eventually he raised hundreds of dollars to buy baskets, canned foods and cellophane wrap to make them look pretty.
“He’s got heart as big as,” said Darlene Williams making a giant circle in the air with her hands. “... too big for him. He wants to give to everybody.”
Williams runs the Santa’s Helpers charity organization out First United. She's in the middle of helping 1,165 families this year, making sure they have the food they need for the holiday season. She’s worked with Bilfulco for two years now, hooking him up with more families he can give baskets to. He in return helped her get 100 free turkeys from Save-A-Lot. She still can’t believe it.
“My husband and I been married 56 years and I said [to him] ‘I have a new man in my life,’ said Williams jokingly. “And he goes ‘What?’ I says 'I met this man he’s got the most wonderful Brooklyn accent. I absolutely loved to listen to him. I loved to hear him talk.' I said 'he’s got the heart.'”
Bifulco came to Michigan with his wife in 2005 and she passed away a short time later. When he got out of prison for the last time in 2007, he decided to call Battle Creek home and leave his former life of drugs and jail-time in New York.
“I don’t have to sleep like this,” Bifulco said laughing with one eye open. “So I’m good. I get a good night's sleep. But if he wakes me up in the morning, I know he wants me to do something good.”