Virginia Smith, hunger relief pioneer

Obituaries December 19, 2012 0 Comments

Virginia Alice Meyer Smith, 89, formerly of Chestnut Hill, one of the founders and later executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank, died Dec. 9 at Cathedral Village in Andorra.

Mrs. Smith served as director of the Food Bank from 1983 until her retirement in 1993. Under her pioneering leadership the Foodbank grew to become Southeastern Pennsylvania’s primary provider of food for local hungry people. In 1993 alone, the Foodbank channeled 9.6 million pounds of food to its network of more than 500 feeding agencies.

She became a pivotal player in hunger relief efforts both locally and statewide.

A Chestnut Hill native, Mrs. Smith graduated from Germantown High School and Wellesley College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in speech. After college, she parlayed her talent as an actress in summer stock into a broadcasting and public relations stint with the U.S. Army, Third Service in Baltimore.

Following her marriage to the late Richard Ferree Smith, also of Chestnut Hill, in 1945, she joined him in Gaza, Palestine where they both worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, assisting with hunger outreach programs for Palestinian refugees. The experience in Gaza, she said in later years, was profoundly transformative.

Returning to Chestnut Hill in 1951, Mrs. Smith combined raising five children with an active career as a volunteer in the Episcopal Church at both the parish and diocesan levels. As her children grew older, she also obtained a master’s degree in education at what was then Beaver College. It was her appointment to the Philadelphia Episcopal Task Force on Hunger in the 1970s which reignited her commitment to the cause of eradicating world hunger and led her to become instrumental in the founding of the Foodbank.

During retirement she continued to travel widely, contribute to political causes and indulge her passion for music and theater.

She is survived by daughters Melanie, of Chestnut Hill, and Meredith, of Lake Forest, Ill.; sons Richard Jr., of Wyndmoor, and Trevor, of Springfield, Mass.; five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. In addition to her husband, Mrs. Smith was preceded in death by her eldest daughter, Tacy.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec 21, at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19118. Memorial donations may be made to this church.

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