If you haven’t come across Elizabeth “Lizzie” Nardi strolling with her wagon through Bridesburg on any given Sunday in the summer, it was hard to miss her two weeks ago at the intersection of Orthodox and Richmond streets.
A small crowd of supporters including her family, one of the community civic groups and local elected officials rallied to support her cause: selling pretzels.
The 10-year-old Bridesburg resident who has autism began bagging and selling the Philadelphia staples every Sunday morning last summer after discussing important life lessons with her parents, Kevin and Ivy Nardi.
“Lizzie was telling us she wanted different things at stores,” Kevin Nardi said. “So, we’re trying to teach her the value of hard work, that nothing is just given to you.”
Lizzie already had her red wagon and she leapt at her parents’ suggestion of selling pretzels.
Her favorite part of the gig?
“I like saying, ‘Fresh pretzels, already fresh pretzels,’ ” she demonstrated, proudly.
From late last spring to early fall, Lizzie and her parents walked the 4400 block of Garden Street, to Allen Street down to Thompson Street every Sunday and some Saturdays from about 8 to 10 a.m.
What started with 75 pretzels has grown to 175, with Lizzie selling out most weeks before reaching the end of her route.
One recent Saturday, a resident yelled an explicit phrase to Lizzie from her home as Lizzie passed by.
Her father couldn’t help but vent on social media after seeing Lizzie react.
“When we got back to the van, she turned to us with tears in her eyes and asked why did the woman do that because she had done nothing wrong,” Nardi explained.
Nardi took to Facebook to express his gratitude for all those who had supported Lizzie thus far, but also detailed the incident.
Within hours, phone calls and messages of support were pouring in “from the great community of Bridesburg,” especially family friend Yvonne Stephens, who spread the word on social media, according to Nardi.
Councilman Henon got wind of the incident and reached out to the family to arrange the rally on Sunday, June 27.
“I reached out and offered to volunteer with her for the day because I was so impressed by Lizzie’s work ethic, positive attitude and dedication,” Henon said. “Lizzie is modeling the kind of behaviors that we want young people to emulate so I wanted to elevate her story. I also wanted to reinforce for Lizzie that when we have dreams and goals, we will reach them with help and support from the people around us. I want young people (to know) that they’ve got people and communities who care about them and will help them. This is especially true in Bridesburg!”
Henon reached out to Fred Becker of the Bridesburg Civic Association and state Rep. Joe Hohenstein to show a united front of support.
“The BCA was very happy to join in for this great little lady and her family,” Becker said. “Everyone there Sunday morning had a smile on their face while giving a hand one way or another.”
Hohenstein offered similar sentiments.
“When Councilmember Henon’s office contacted me about helping Lizzie out after she was heckled by a neighbor, I knew I had to help,” he said. “In meeting Lizzie, I recognized immediately that she was a kid who had learned from her parents to respond with kindness, even if people weren’t kind to her. I know from my family that people with conditions on the autism spectrum experience the world differently than most of us. The way their brains work is something like a superpower – and for Lizzie who has Angleman’s syndrome, her superpower is kindness. If we let go of fear and prejudice, we can learn from people we see as different.”
Becker, Henon and Hohenstein donated the pretzels for the day.
Henon presented Lizzie with a citation from City Council and a new, pink fishing rod kit.
Becker gave Lizzie a new scooter.
Both were items she had been saving up for, her appreciation and shock visible as tears appeared when she saw them.
“It was like a party,” Lizzie said. “I was happy.”
Lizzie’s parents were just as overwhelmed.
“We just knew they were donating the pretzels. We didn’t expect all that,” Kevin Nardi said. “It was just a moment of pure joy for everyone to support her like that.”
“We didn’t expect it at all,” Ivy Nardi added. “We didn’t expect them to give their support to a 10-year-old saving up for something special. It was amazing. I was so excited for her.”
Lizzie and her parents plan to go to the hatcheries at Pleasant Hill Park to test out her new fishing rod and Lizzie has tried her new scooter around the house.
And, Lizzie isn’t quite done yet.
She is still currently saving money to take a trip to Cape Canaveral, which is the U.S. space operations site.
“We’ll see rovers, rocket ships and astronauts,” Lizzie said. “My favorite astronaut is Mai Jemison.”
And, while she’s not busy selling pretzels, she’s hitting the books at Maritime Academy, where she is “a straight-A student,” according to her parents.
Lizzie is a budding photographer, a hobby she hopes to pursue as a career later in life.
The family visits the New Hope area frequently on photography scavenger hunts, takes photos of the covered bridge, and goes hiking.
And, Lizzie takes lessons at the Pegasus Riding Company
Meanwhile, despite the recent incident, Lizzie is just as eager to sell pretzels as ever.
“It never stopped her or broke her spirit,” Kevin Nardi said. “She woke us up the next morning to sell pretzels.”
And, her loyal customers are always waiting.
“So many people share that they did something like this when they were kids and it brings back memories for them,” Kevin Nardi said. “She has customers that actually wait outside for her. It just makes people happy.”
For the Nardis, living a normal life is all they want for their daughter.
“She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body,” Ivy Nardi said.
“She never lets anything bother her and is kind to everyone she comes into contact with. She tries to find the good in everyone,” Kevin Nardi said. “She’s just a lovable 10-year-old who wants to be accepted.”
Edgemont Caterers, 4411 Edgemont St., is donating its venue and hosting Dinner for Donations to support Lizzie in her fundraising efforts to travel to Cape Canaveral. The event will be held on Wednesday, July 21, from 6 to 8 p.m.
RSVP by July 18.
Donations or Venmo accepted at the door. No cash.
Call 215-768-0921 or stop by to RSVP.
For menu, visit Edgemont Caterers on Facebook.
For delivery from Lizzie’s Pretzel Wagon, call 215-796-4637.