Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Food bank director takes up where her mom left off


Debbie Vas has been executive director of Toledo Seagate Food Bank for six years.

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Debbie Vas didn't listen to one of her high school teachers.

When she was a student at Notre Dame Academy, she worked with migrant farmers, and a teacher who saw how upset she was about the difficulty of their lives suggested she avoid careers that would be too emotionally involving.

As the executive director of the Toledo Seagate Food Bank, she sees parents who need help feeding their children and senior citizens who run out of food by the end of the month.

But now she can do something about it.

The food bank distributes food to 530 nonprofit programs, soup kitchens, senior centers, and other groups.

"If they can use it, they're welcome to it," Ms. Vas said.

Ms. Vas, 54, has been involved in the organization since her mother, Alice Mosiniak, founded it in 1980 and asked her for help answering the telephones.

Ms. Vas' son was starting preschool, so she said yes.

She worked many different jobs at the food bank, even driving a forklift, and learned the mechanics of warehousing.

"It's a little different from being a mom," she said.

She became the executive director six years ago, working with the organizations the food bank serves, to make sure it is fulfilling its mission.

"She is so committed to this community, to what she does," said Cyndy Meacham, executive director of the Aurora Gonzalez Community and Family Resource Center. The food bank has provided food to the center's pantry for about three years.

"It's been a kind of a passive passion for her to take over when her mom retired," Mrs. Meacham said.

That passion makes the food bank a major part of her life. It's a big enough part that her son gave her a new office chair last Christmas.

Ms. Vas said there has been a 65 percent increase in requests for food since last year, and donations, from food companies or grocery stores, are down.

"We took a big hit when Food Town and Spartan left," she said.

Late last spring, the food bank became a distributor for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides food to qualified senior citizens.

Ms. Vas and other food bank staff members went out to talk to the seniors, many of whom were living on $300 or $400 a month.

"They've really worked their whole lives and have made our community what it is, and here they are struggling," she said. "Your heart goes out to them."

Senior citizens who are prescreened through senior centers pick up 3,000 boxes of food a month at 13 locations.

Some of the food bank's 200 volunteers and 13 full and part-time staff pack the boxes in an assembly line, each box getting a carefully selected 50 pounds of food.

Even on a day when such large-scale activity isn't happening, the warehouses on High Street are busy, with huge sacks of donated potatoes being unloaded where minutes before, an agency was loading boxes of food to take away. Workers prepare boxes of food and organize the inventory.

The staff and volunteers are like family, Ms. Vas said.

Rick Lynn, the administrative assistant, said Ms. Vas goes out of her way to help people: "She's very good-hearted."

Contact Elizabeth A. Shack at: eshack@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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