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20121107 Comfort House Sandra Vecchio lg-05 featureFreshly washed towels. A new backpack. The smooth pages of a dictionary.

These things may all seem commonplace enough, but Sandra Vecchio knows that for the people who receive them through the charities she’s worked with they’re small gestures that can make a lasting impact.

Vecchio, Mission’s new Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, has a history with local community organizations that’s as extensive as any professional resume.

One cause close to Vecchio’s heart is Comfort House in McAllen, a hospice facility that accepts patients who have no one to care for them or who are unable to afford care.

“Once you see what they do there, it really is a Godsend place,” she said. “They take care of you with respect. It’s a true non-profit to me.”

Vecchio, who serves on Comfort House’s board, became involved with the organization seven years ago. In addition to fundraising, she has volunteered in the facility’s laundry room – washing and folding – and kitchen to help free up time for caregivers to spend with their patients.

“I wanted to do something other than fundraisers. That was a no-brainer,” she said of her involvement with Comfort House. “That was a place I needed to be. You see the residents and the caregivers, and it’s not sad, it’s just very humbling.”

In the past, Vecchio also worked and traveled with the sister cities project between Mission and towns in Mexico to deliver school supplies to children in need. The annual trip often provided the youngsters with the only school materials they would receive for the year.

As a member of the Rotary Club, Vecchio said one event that still amazes her is watching the faces of third grade students across Mission and Sharyland light up when the organization gifts them with dictionaries each school year.

“It’s the most amazing thing you could possibly see, these kids getting a dictionary,” she said, smiling at the memory. “They were so excited… They’re just so cute.”

Vecchio also accidentally, but happily, fell into leading a sacrament class for teens at St. Paul’s Church. The day before she was set to begin helping as a volunteer, the teacher she was to assist moved.

“It was one day to the next. I went in there all happy thinking, ‘Let me go in there and get my feet wet and help out,’ and they said, ‘Do you want to teach a class?’” she recalled. “I never looked back. It was meant to be.”

Vecchio’s involvement with charities began when she worked at a bank and was charged with organizing employees to perform community service. She researched worthy causes, scanning the newspaper to find out where there was need, including events for children’s health and muscular dystrophy.

“If I organized it, you were going,” she said.

Cathy Garcia, a pastor at Freedom Life Church and close friend to Vecchio, said they met about seven years ago through their involvement in several community events and organizations. Since then, they’ve become known to others as the “dynamic duo” and “partners in crime.”

“Sandra is really a lot of fun to work with,” Garcia said. “She is just very passionate about everything she does. There’s just never a dull moment.”

Garcia said that, when organizing fundraisers, it’s not uncommon for Vecchio to purchase and donate items for the event out-of-pocket.

Outside of her non-profit work, Garcia said Vecchio’s strong bond with her family is apparent.

“I think it says a lot about her, how she loves her family and how they love her back,” Garcia said. “I think it’s a really beautiful picture of who she is.”

Looking back, Vecchio said she doesn’t quite know how she managed to balance work, family and her community involvement.

“That’s what I want to know, too,” she said with a laugh.

Vecchio said she got her giving spirit from her father, John.

“Dad taught me that we’re all here for a purpose,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to ask. We should take the initiative and do it ourselves.”

Though he passed away more than a decade ago, Vecchio said his kindness is still remembered by those who knew him.

“It’s been over 10 years, and they’re still missing him at church,” she said. “Everyone was welcome at our house. They were always feeding you, my family.”

Now retired from her 25-year career in banking, Vecchio is free to focus on her non-profit pursuits full time. One of her next goals is to help further develop and beautify downtown Mission.

“I love doing things for where I live,” she said. “If we can get it to help our residents in Mission, I want to get it.”

Vecchio was presented the First Lady of Mission award in October for her outstanding community service. The citizens awards, including Mr. Mission, First Lady, Man of the Year and Woman of the Year, are conducted by the Progress Times and presented at the annual banquet of the Mission Chamber of Commerce.

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