Mary Vail has been helping to fight hunger in Las Vegas for 15 years.
When she first began her efforts, she wanted to organize a campaign that would allow anyone in the community, regardless of background, to participate.
She has been able to do just that with an annual food drive.
“I hope that every year we’ve been able to make a difference, not only in the recipients, but in the mind of donors as well,” the 57-year-old publicist said Wednesday.
“There are people out there who need our help.”
Vail is one of five finalists across the country vying for the Make A Difference Day All-Star Award and $10,000. Family and friends are able to vote for their favorite finalist through Tuesday.
The winner of the national event, sponsored by USA WEEKEND Magazine, will be announced at the end of this month.
For the past 15 years, Vail has organized a one-day food drive at Smith’s grocery store on Rampart Boulevard, near Lake Mead Boulevard, for the annual Make A Difference Day on the fourth Saturday in October.
Vail partners with the Salvation Army of Southern Nevada for the food drive. All the food collected goes to the charity’s food pantry, which in September experienced a shortage and called for the community’s help.
“We count on it. It’s something that we look forward to every fall,” said Leslee Rogers, spokeswoman with the Salvation Army.
In 2012, Vail received an award and $10,000 for her work on the Make A Difference Day food drive. She donated the money to the Salvation Army.
If she wins again, she will donate the money to the charity, she said.
As part of the food drive, Vail and volunteers work the grocery store lobby and hand out fliers to customers asking them if they would like to donate a food item.
The flier provides a list of needed, nonperishable items.
“We’ve gotten an item, a bag and even a full cart,” Rogers said with excitement.
Vail has had a lot of success with the food drive, attracting many volunteers and big donations. Full organizations have shown up to help.
The volunteers organize the food in boxes and have a lot of fun, Vail said. That’s all part of the rewarding experience.
Typically, the food drive collects an average of 3,500 pounds of food.
“It gets busy,” she said. “A lot of positive energy. A lot of people come together.”
Vail hopes to win the award so she can help feed more people in the community.
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” she said.
The demand continues, Rogers said. It didn’t slow down after the holidays.
The food pantry has been doing well because it has received several big donations, she said.
People can cast votes in the contest at http://www.makeadifferenceday.com/vote-now
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.