Off the Road: With Vinny Vassallo

December 15, 2021 Updated: January 23, 2024

Vinny Vassallo, Operations Coordinator and former Spoonfuls’ Food Rescue Coordinator, reflects on how the relationships he built in his time on the road carry on off it, too.

“Oh no, we will miss you so much!”

“It won’t be the same without you!”

“I hope Vinny takes care of us like you did!”

As I stood awkwardly next to Joel, these are just a sampling of the comments our beneficiary partners had for him. Joel was in his last week as a Food Rescue Coordinator before making his big transition to the office to be a part of our growing development team. Back then, Spoonfuls’ team was smaller, and it was the first time in about a year that our core team of Food Rescue Coordinators had lost someone in our ranks.

I shadowed Joel for his last week on the road and was taking over the route in his stead. While beneficiaries like 12 Step Education Program of New England in Burlington showered him with well-deserved praise, I would stand like a statue to the side and think, “I hope I don’t mess this up.” I was concerned that I wouldn’t develop the same relationship with my partners that Joel had: a natural concern, given the amount of admiration Joel had developed through his winning attitude, charisma, and the care he gave to each person he interacted with. I did not think I possessed those qualities.

Fast forward to three years later, to the summer of 2020. I had begun transitioning off the route and handed the keys of the truck to Abby, another Food Rescue Coordinator. A sense of déjà vu showered over me on my last week, as I heard partners say the same things to me that they said to Joel. “It won’t be the same without you,” said our contact at 12 Step.

“You said the same thing to Joel,” I am quick to retort.

“Yeah, but I mean it this time.”

I felt bad for Abby because I knew how I felt when I was in her shoes. I hope I said something nice to her to belay any qualms she had about taking over the route for me, like “They said the same exact thing to Joel when he was coming off the route, don’t worry about it!” but I don’t remember.

You expect to create relationships when you take on a job. But when you’re delivering food at no cost to an organization, the cynical side of me expected that the relationship might be predicated on a desire on the part of the beneficiary to not “bite the hand that feeds,” no pun intended. I was wrong. I knew it when I came off the road and into the office, and I wish Joel would have warned me. 

It started when I began getting calls from Barbara and Joan, two pantry coordinators at A Servant’s Heart Pantry in Melrose. I had an instant rapport with them when I saved Barbara from getting crushed by a stack of frozen turkeys (it was maybe my fault she was in that position in the first place – another story for another day). Now, as an Operations Coordinator, it was my job to field calls from partners and deal with any questions or issues that arose. After a bit of chit-chat on a phone call from Joan, I tried to get down to brass tacks:

“So, what can I help you with, Joan?”

“Nothing, I’m just calling to see how you’re doing.”

That’s it. She didn’t want to talk about the pantry, or Lovin’ Spoonfuls, or Abby. She wanted to talk about bocce at the senior center, my wife, our holiday plans. I told Joel that I talked to Joan. “Yeah, she calls me to chit-chat, too,” he told me like it was no big deal. It was just the beginning. Partners kept calling and texting me, with no Spoonfuls business to discuss whatsoever – they just wanted to talk. Texts at the holidays, email correspondence, photos from the pantry, “How’s your Father doing?”, “Do you like living in Ipswich?,” etc. Sue at Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry (pictured above) still sends over candy to the office for Joel and me; she knows my favorite is Mounds, so I can always look forward to a fair amount during the candy holidays. I took for granted the relationships I was forming when I was in the truck. I saw them say the same thing to me that they said to Joel and chalked it up to their gratitude with the service Spoonfuls provides – but it was bigger than that. Our partners are genuinely some of the kindest, most thoughtful, and interesting people you could talk to. 

Recently, I rode along with Abby for a day. When we got to 12 Step, our contact said to me: “Abby is fantastic. We couldn’t be happier with her, we never want her to leave.”

“You said the same thing about Joel, and then you said the same thing about me. I told you Abby would be great,” I am quick to reply.

“Well…I guess we are just lucky to get all the good ones.”

Learn more about Vinny Vassallo and the other members of Team Lovin’ on our staff page.

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