The “Bread Man”– more than a volunteer
“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
– James Matthew Barrie
A volunteer is a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task. On the surface that describes Gilroyan Vince Saso, but he’s more than that. Being a volunteer today, however, has almost become commonplace, ordinary and even expected. But Saso is also no ordinary volunteer. He has the ability to assess and fearlessly initiate things independently to the benefit of those in need.
He developed these skills while working for the Employment Development Department (EDD) for 35 years helping farm workers, cannery workers and day laborers find employment. After he retired as a manager from the EDD Campbell office in 2006 he began volunteering at the Gilroy Senior Center serving lunches. He immediately noticed many seniors struggling. “Some only ate half their lunch, then saved the rest for dinner because that’s all they would have to eat for the day,” he recalled. “I remember thinking there has to be a better life than this for them. They don’t ask for anything and they are barely surviving.”
When he heard Panera Bread threw out a lot of edible food every night, he talked to the manager. “They were really generous. They gave me everything they couldn’t use but was still good to eat,” said Saso, who picked up food nearly every day for the next 12 years and delivered the goodies to the Senior Center. “It’s better to feed families at the table than feed the landfills.”
U.S. food waste is estimated to be 30 to 40 percent of the food supply, and Californians throw away approximately 5 to 6 million tons of food waste annually, according to CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the new recycling regulations.
The Bread Man, as he was soon nicknamed, started working with Costco, Nob Hill and Sumano’s Bakery to collect edible food that would otherwise go into the landfill. Eventually he had more than the Senior Center clients could eat, so he started delivering to the Salvation Army Community Center, Wheeler Manor, Live Oak Adult Daycare, and the Gilroy Veterans Hall, which also have clients with food insecurities.
“Our veterans really appreciate being able to get food from our Vets’ Pantry to help supplement their weekly groceries,“ said Gabe Perez, president of the South Santa Clara Valley Memorial District, which owns and operates the Gilroy Veterans Hall. “Some are on fixed incomes and taking care of grandchildren. Even a box of muffins, a bag of rice and some apples can make a difference. We’re grateful for Vince’s dedication to those in need.”
The high cost of living, inflation and the continued impacts of the pandemic are all factors that lead to food insecurity. More than half the people who go hungry are children and seniors.
In addition to making almost daily rounds to collect and distribute food, he finds time to also volunteer for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, one of the largest food banks in the nation serving about 460,000 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties every month, including nearly 27,000 monthly in South County.
“Vince is a longtime contributor and site leader at our Gilroy Senior Center and Library distribution. He’s extremely committed to serving each and every one of our clients with humor, kindness and dignity. It has been a true pleasure getting to work alongside Vince as he serves his community of South County so consistently and without fail,” said Brittany Cheung, Regional Program Manager for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley.
Saso has almost as many awards and accolades as the organizations he’s volunteered for including St. Catherine’s Church, the Italian Catholic Federation, Garlic Festival, Elks Lodge, St. Louise Hospital and the California Highway Patrol in Gilroy, just to name a few.
“I’ve been truly blessed in my life, but I’ve seen how sad life can be. My father taught me to give back to my community. I’m just doing what he preached,” said Saso. He plans to continue taking the initiative to volunteer where he’s needed.
I know of no great man except those who have rendered great services to the human race.