Las Vegas Sun

October 26, 2014

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Angels in the Valley:

Woman shows philanthropy can be as easy as shopping for groceries

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Sam Morris

Mary Vail has been organizing food drives for the past 15 years.

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In Angels in the Valley, an occasional series, we’re profiling individuals who’ve made a difference in the lives of others and deserve to be recognized for their willingness to help. So if you know an Angel, email [email protected] with details.

It’s fitting that Mary Vail earned a college degree in food service management.

For 15 years, Vail has lead a philanthropic initiative to collect food to serve needy local families.

The gesture began with an ad seeking volunteers for Make A Difference Day, a national day for doing good deeds sponsored by USA Weekend magazine. Vail saw it as an opportunity to get involved.

“I wanted to do something that was going to be impactful, easy for others to join in and something that would be very grass-roots,” she said.

She staged a food drive at a grocery store and asked shoppers to consider donating a nonperishable item. Vail made participation even easier by handing customers a list of potential items as they walked into a Smith’s supermarket at Rampart and Lake Mead boulevards.

That first food drive, in October 1999, yielded 1,000 pounds of food. Last year, Vail helped collect 4,730 pounds of food at the 15th annual event. Through the years, participants have donated more than 26 tons of food — 53,263 pounds, to be exact.

Vail, a 58-year-old publicist who requires her clients to practice philanthropy, tears up as she describes watching shoppers give their donations.

“They don’t just drop it off and keep pushing,” she said. “They stop, and they want to make sure they present you with the items. You can tell they get emotionally involved.”

Vail credits her father, a passionate volunteer and philanthropist in her small Texas hometown, with inspiring her to serve others. When she married a man in the military, she carried that tradition with her, organizing activities to boost community spirit at their bases. In the process, she instilled the same sense of engagement in her husband and two children.

Vail recently published a book, “What’s Your Philanthropic Footprint?,” about her charitable endeavors, detailing how she has encouraged businesses to get involved. She believes everyone has talents to offer — it just takes a commitment.

“Find something you really resonate with,” she said. “Is it animal activism? Is it working with children? Is it environmental? Reach out to those organizations.”

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