Everything was on the upswing for Leslie Gudel when she moved to Philly from California in 1997. She took a new job as an anchor for Comcast SportsNet, now NBC Sports Philadelphia, and spent a few seasons also reporting from college football sidelines for ABC.
Her career was skyrocketing, but something was missing.
“I was almost embarrassingly not aware of the hardships that were happening around me in a way that I am now,” Gudel said. “And I think that comes with age.”
Now 54, Gudel has recently launched a new charitable project: Food It Forward, a nonprofit that helps local restaurants as well as food banks.
Formed in the second week of March, Food it Forward has raised more than $60,000.
The concept is one being used elsewhere, locally and nationwide. Food It Forward raises money and buys gift cards from local restaurants and then distributes them. First, the gift cards went to frontline workers like hospital employees and medics. Now, the gift cards are being given to food banks.
About 50 local restaurants have been part of Gudel’s program, which has helped as that industry recovers from more than 8 million layoffs and furloughs in recent weeks, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Sean Coyle, owner of the Goat’s Beard restaurants in Wayne and Manayunk, has been among the beneficiaries of Food It Forward.
“It’s been a great program because it is helping people [who can use the gift cards]," Coyle said, adding, “it is also a big help to the restaurants.”
Gudel formed her first nonprofit in 2016 and named it Kendall’s Crusade, after her daughter. Kendall, who is now a high school sophomore, had suffered a stroke caused by arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Her condition required two radiation treatments in 2015 and another one this past February after she suffered a small stroke over the holidays.
“It’s tough to understand how much it truly rocks your world, and it changes everything,” said Gudel, who also has a son, Chase, an eighth grader.
Kendall doesn’t have use of her left hand, has lost some vision, and walks with a limp, “but you meet her and you wouldn’t know this happened, she is always smiling and has a really good attitude,” her mother said.
Seeing how much support her family received spurred Gudel to help others. Kendall’s Crusade has raised more than $220,000 for families who have been afflicted by AVM.
“A reason it’s important to give back to the community is because it was our community who helped us so much,” Gudel said.
Gudel also volunteers with the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, founded by the former football coach of Villanova. The foundation recruits marrow donors for the Be the Match Registry, adding more than 106,000 donors and contributing to 621 transplants.
Gudel "has been amazing for us on so many different fronts,” said Krista Ross, the foundation’s executive director. “She’s on our board and is just able, with her background in sports and all her connections, [to give] us exposure to a lot of important people in the sports industry.”
Besides her daughter’s physical situation, Gudel has had to persevere through other challenges: After 19 years at Comcast Sports Net, she was let go in 2016. She also owned two business that eventually shuttered, the first of which came after a dispute with the Consumer Product Safety Commission over product safety and misuse.
Through the ups and downs, Gudel has not only developed an empathy for those who have struggled, she’s also formed a determined attitude to help those in need.
Gudel’s Food It Forward organization services Wayne, Berwyn, Devon, and Paoli. She has also been contacted by people looking to start similar projects in other nearby towns and as far away as California, Florida, and Texas. So she developed a starter kit that she sends to those who are interested.
After seeing Gudel on an interview on Fox and Friends, Scott Duncan of Indianola, Iowa, wanted to bring Food It Forward to his town. He contacted Gudel and he is now running something called Feed It Forward, which raised more than $10,000 in its first month.
“I would never have started it if I hadn’t seen her,” Duncan said in a phone interview. “I wanted her to know we were motivated by her. I can’t thank her enough.”
The idea for Food It Forward came after Gudel lunched with a friend in Wayne during the second week of March, just before the coronavirus prompted the shutdown of most businesses.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is going to be hard on restaurants,'" she said.
The wheels began spinning, she put her idea for Food It Forward on Facebook, and people stepped up to help her get things started. One of the people pitching in is Sonya Peterson, who has worked with Gudel on Kendall’s Crusade.
“Leslie is extremely passionate and is also so selfless,” Peterson said. “She wants to help as many people as possible.”
Professionally, Gudel has made a successful switch to the real estate industry, where she previously worked for five years after graduating from UCLA. In her first full year as a local real estate agent for Berkshire Hathaway Fox and Roach, she has had double-digit home sales.
As much as she enjoys the real estate world, she is most proud of the work she does to help others.
“This is my passion,” she said. “During these times you hope to help make a difference, and I believe we are accomplishing that.”