On St. Vincent de Paul Executive Director Steve Zabilski’s wall is a photo taken a few years ago of former Fry’s Food Stores President Jon Flora during a visit to the center. It’s of the now-deceased man surrounded by a group of children, all holding books donated to them during his visit.
Zabilski said the man brought more than 1,000 books with him that day, and stayed around to read to the kids for hours — well beyond the time he had scheduled for the visit.
“I remember he turned to his people and said ‘we can make time,’” he said.
Flora, who died on Sept. 13 due to complications caused by blood clots in his legs, was well-regarded by the local food banks for the amount of charitable work Fry’s did during his tenure and for the hands-on approach he took to civic service projects.
St. Mary’s Food Bank Director of Public Relations Jerry Brown, also a regular contributor to the Tribune, said Fry’s has donated to food banks like St. Mary’s for many years, but he said there was a noticeable difference in the company’s contributions once Flora took over.
“Under Jon’s leadership, it went up another level,” he said.
A good example of the contributions Fry’s made to St. Mary’s under Flora’s stewardship came in February 2012, when the company vowed to raise 100 tons of food for that month. Fry’s didn’t quite hit that target figure: rather, it blew right past it and accumulated just short of seven times the target figure.
In a press release, United Food Bank President and CEO Bob Evans Jr. lauded Flora for his efforts with food banks across the state and for Fry’s sponsorship of two UFB events: “An Evening with the Stars” and “Friends of the United Food Bank’s Breakfast.” In an ensuing interview, Evans provided similar sentiments as Brown and Zabilski, saying Flora would be “sorely missed,” and was especially saddened by how young Flora was — 58 — when he died.
“It makes you take stock of your life,” he said.
Beyond the charitable contributions made through Fry’s, Brown, Evans and Zabilski praised Flora as a person, with Evans calling him “just a really nice guy.”
During the holiday season, Brown said Flora would arrive at St. Mary’s with Santa Claus in tow and a check to donate, and he would make sure to stay around and meet the staff.
“If you wanted to shake Jon’s hand and get a photo with him, Jon was always willing to do that,” Brown said.
When Flora would visit St. Vincent, Zabilski said he was the first person to come and the last one to leave, which exemplified the way he “led by example.” Zabilski also credited Flora for his willingness to meet with St. Vincent’s guests and spend ample amounts of time with them, like the hours spent with the kids.
Those are a few of the reasons Zabilski considers Flora to be something of a role model.
“You know when there are people in your life that inspire you; that was Jon Flora for me,” he said.
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