It's just after 5 a.m. and the streets of the Old North End of Burlington are mostly empty. But for Bob Maritano, it's time to get to work. He's been coming to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf for almost 23 years, never as paid staffer, always as a volunteer.
"We actually broke a record in food drive total for November and it looks like we will break another one in December," he said.
Bob is the volunteer food drive coordinator. The 73-year-old speaks to civic groups and kids about hunger in the county. The food shelf serves 13,000 clients in the county.
"I've met so many people by doing this. It's incredible," Bob said.
The middle class kid from Connecticut came to Vermont to run a restaurant with his uncle. Bob and Chuck's was a well-known establishment in South Burlington for years. Then after his uncle became sick, they sold the business. Bob suffered a heart attack at 50 but wanted to keep busy. While giving a ride to the food shelf, he decided to take a look in for himself and was hooked.
"So I asked him, 'What do I need to do to get on board?' 'Start unloading this truck' and that was it," Bob said.
Now, the divorced father of two is here seven days a week.
"This is my life," he said. "This place was actually the best rehab for my life, for what I went through, this place has done me a favor."
"Without Bob Maritano and his food drives, I don't think we would have this much," said Donna Patch, a volunteer.
Right now, the boxes of food are overflowing. The challenges are after the holidays. That's why Bob hits the road, picking up donated food at local supermarkets.
Reporter Joe Carroll: Do you ever get sick of doing this?
Bob Maritano: No! Can't do enough of it.
First stop: Shelburne Supermarket. He stops there every day. He knows everyone's name.
"Hi Patty! Hi Joyce! Good morning!" Bob said.
The fact is the food shelf couldn't survive without the generosity of the community.
Next stop: Shaw's in South Burlington. Then it's back on the road back to the food shelf. It's a never-ending routine.
Joe Carroll: Why don't you take a day off?
Bob Maritano: Not why I'm here, Joe!
Bob has a special sweet spot for children. He knows in his heart the time he's spent advocating for the poor has been his calling. As the saying goes, it's better to give than receive. Bob, as you can see, is a true believer in that motto.
Joe Carroll: When are you going to retire?
Bob Maritano: Well, I got to ask the guy upstairs.
PO Box 4508