Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 | 6:18 p.m.
The season for giving seemed to start early this year as a motley array of dancers with bulging muscles, TV personalities and children gathered to pile high food for the needy.
Mary Vail organized the food drive at the Smith’s in Summerlin for the 14th time. For her many years of organizing events to help the less fortunate, she received an honorary key to Las Vegas. As food flowed in from gracious donors Sunday, Vail was easy to spot with her white smile and hair as red as the desert rock. She was boxing cans, jars and bottles.
“When you do something of this nature, you don’t do it for the recognition. You do it to raise awareness,” she said at the donation table near the entrance of the store. “It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes a huge community to make this happen.”
That community rallied at 2211 N. Rampart Blvd. to summon nearly 4,000 pounds of food for the Las Vegas chapter of the Salvation Army food bank. Some people brought a can or two; others brought entire carts filled with food. It all makes a difference, Vail said.
Stavros Anthony, mayor pro tem of Las Vegas, decided to give her the key as he’s become more familiar with her work in the three and a half years he’s been in office.
“I just decided she really needed to be recognized. She didn’t ask for that,” he said.
What began as a small event has grown and gathered momentum for Vail, 56, a self-employed publicist. The drive has collected more than 48,000 pounds of nonperishable food and hygiene items.
Many hands labored to bring the food together, and one older woman stopped at the table with a cart brimming with food and said, “This is for you.”
The exercise of helping others, Vail said, can be an important teaching tool for children, too.
The drive "instills something in their core values when they grow older,” she said.
The cast of celebrity characters who came in support of the drive included dancers from "Fantasy" at the Luxor, Maria Silva of "More Access" on KVVU Channel 5 and KVVU meteorologist Ted Pretty.
Among the well-known local talent in attendance were two muscular Australian hulks from Thunder From Down Under at the Excalibur.
Fresh off a late-night performance, the pair patrolled the aisles in their tight tank tops reading “Thunder From Down Under” and grabbing armfuls of food and even shampoo.
One of them, Mathew Fardell, was shoving boxes of dried soup into his cart when he spoke of what Las Vegas means to him.
“We’ve become very much a part of this community,” he said. “We’re just happy to be here.”
Far from his home in Australia, Fardell switched his attention quickly.
“Oatmeal?” he asked his compatriot. “You can’t go wrong with oatmeal.”
They headed off in search of the dried food, pausing here and there to take pictures with eager fans, not yet finished with their shopping.