For borough residents in need of a meal, Aleksander Nilaj is the man to know.

Nilaj, 48, an Albanian immigrant who is a Pelham Parkway building superintendent, spends most days of the week delivering food to distribution sites and anyone in need. Through the Albanian American Open Hand Association, which he founded in 2012, Nilaj has organized the collection and delivery of tens of thousands of meal ingredients to individuals and charitable groups across the Bronx.

Throughout the pandemic, Nilaj and a team of volunteers have increased the reach of their program in an effort to meet rising levels of need. Prior to the pandemic, the Bronx had one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country. The situation has only become worse.

From the cold of the winter and into the thaw of spring, Nilaj and his fellow volunteers have worked to provide a degree of stability in hard-hit neighborhoods.

Nila hands a food box to a Pelham Bay resident on Feb. 19. The food is donated with the assistance of Councilman Mark Gjonaj, who helps coordinate bulk deliveries to the Albanian American Open Hand Association. “Times are really difficult right now,” Nijal said. “But thank God—and thanks to our volunteers and donors—we have been able to feed thousands and thousands of people.” 

A volunteer loads a box—one of nearly 2,000 distributed every Friday at the Hellenic Orthodox Community Church in Pelham Bay—into a recipient’s car on Feb.19.

Nilaj helps a volunteer with his mask during a Friday food distribution at the church on March 5. Many volunteers are Albanian immigrants.

Volunteers await the next group of cars in front of the church on March 5. Boxes typically contain chicken, onions, potatoes, milk, yogurt, cheese, cereal and other items.

Families are typically given multiple boxes, as seen here in Pelham Bay on March 5.

A woman looks out her car window while waiting for volunteers to load her car on March 5. The number of Bronx residents seeking assistance more than doubled over the past year.

Volunteers distribute food from the association’s office on Holland Avenue on March 13, as they do every Saturday and Tuesday morning.

Onions and potatoes, positioned here on March 20, will be part of boxes sent out from the association’s office, where clothing, school supplies and toys are also collected for distribution.

Nilaj and a volunteer load a van on March 20. Nilaj delivers on a daily basis to anyone unable to reach a distribution site.

A grateful Bronx resident hugs Nilaj after he made a March 20 delivery to her home in Pelham Bay.

Nilaj unloads while making a March 20 delivery in Pelham Bay. The box is one of up to 3,000 the association gives away weekly.

Nilaj talks with two residents of Pelham Gardens as they accept a few food boxes on March 20.

Nilaj at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at St. Lucy’s Church in the Allerton section after distributing food on March 20. Like many Catholic Albanians, Nilaj takes inspiration from the work of Mother Teresa, the Catholic saint who was of Albanian descent. “If we can do half of what she did, I think we’ll be all right.”

Nilaj and another volunteer search for an address while making the final delivery for March 20. “As long as people are hungry, we will do our best to help them,” he said.