At age 11, a Brooklyn girl named Nilda found herself living in a group home. Her family had left her there soon after her mother's death from tuberculosis.
Scarred by a difficult childhood, Nilda Alvarez would go on to devote her adult life to helping others. As a union representative at Entenmann's Bakery in Bay Shore, Alvarez fought for fellow workers. As a longtime leader of Pronto of Long Island, a Suffolk-based charity, she helped feed, clothe, train, tutor and counsel needy Hispanics and others.
Alvarez died Nov. 23 at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital of a massive stroke she suffered after dancing at a wedding, her daughter, Belinda Groneman, said. Alvarez was 79.
After years of volunteer work, she was named Pronto's executive director after retiring from Entenmann's in 1989. During her nearly 15 years in charge, Pronto -- named for how quickly the group aims to provide help -- grew steadily, opening a $1.5 million outreach center in 2005.
"She was the foundation of the place," said Frank Sinisi, a past Pronto president.
She would raise funds, seek grants and hawk donated items -- anything to help more people, former associates said. Her work earned plaudits, among them the Hispanic Heritage Award presented in 2006 by state Sen. Owen H. Johnson (R-West Babylon).
Before heading Pronto, Alvarez was a union rep at Entenmann's for Local 3 of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers International Union.
Francis McNamee, Entenmann's longtime vice president for human resources, recalled how he'd work with Alvarez to hash out disciplinary issues and work rules. "You could go to the bank with anything she told you," he said.
She was born Nilda Salicroup on May 23, 1933, in Brooklyn, the only child of Frances Miranda and Augustin Salicroup, a longshoreman. Alvarez grew up in the borough's Carroll Gardens section and graduated, in 1950, from Girls Commercial High School, now Prospect Heights High.
Alvarez moved to Brentwood in 1968, part of a wave of Puerto Rican migration from the city. "An acre was cheap, and it reminded us of our hometowns," she told Newsday in 2002.
She attended St. John's University's human resource program, worked at a phone company and finished Entenmann's baking school. She worked first as a baker, then an assembly-line boss.
Alvarez moved to Orlando, Fla., about a decade ago but spent most of her time on the Island in the same home, on Brentwood's Crooked Hill Road. Her funeral Mass was celebrated Nov. 30 at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Brentwood.
Alvarez's first marriage, to Daniel Alvarez, ended in divorce. She later married Jose R. Olmo, who survives her.
She is also survived by five children, Groneman, of East Islip, who is now Pronto's president; Rene Wagner, of Ocoee, Fla.; Daniel Alvarez, of Brentwood; Michael Alvarez, of Orlando; and John Alvarez, of Lake Ronkonkoma; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.