Boston bakery distributor practices 'Charity in Truth'

NEW BEDFORD -- As a Catholic, Andy LaVallee, founder and CEO of LaVallee's Bakery Distributors in Waltham, feels charitable work is his moral responsibility.

"We run our company on two real basic values that came out of Pope Benedict's encyclical, 'Charity in Truth,' and that is stewardship is a gift from God and that it's something we're only in possession of, so what we do with it is important," LaVallee said. "We feel like it's a real moral responsibility as a Catholic to do certain things for the community. So we need to take care of some of the Catholic-based food pantries and charities in the area."

When LaVallee's prosperous bakery distribution company has a surplus 1,200 or 1,500 cases of fresh-baked bread on hand, they donate them to places like the Lazarus House or St. Francis House in Boston, or the food pantry at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford.

"Sometimes the Greater Boston Food Bank will get the overage," he said, "but we give it to anyone who has a combination of giving charity and faith in God."

"LaVallee's has been very nice and generous to us, for sure," said Paula Briden, coordinator of the food pantry at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford. "They have a wonderful heart and they are very willing to help people."

Briden said her parish food pantry has remained steadily busy, unfortunately, and they serve about 400 families regularly, so donations like this are most welcome.

"People were standing in the pouring rain this morning waiting to get in," she said. "We tried to open up a half-hour early so they wouldn't be standing in the rain. People have been very generous and we've received many donations, which makes a big difference."

Having founded his business nearly 35 years ago, LaVallee has always maintained that charity remains key to his success.

"It's really not a benefit, it's more a responsibility," he said. "If you understand creation in Genesis, you understand that God made us for a purpose. What really happens is it comes down to respect and dignity for all people. And if you're fortunate to have a business like we do, you should be giving of the things that are closest to you -- that is, our resources and our products -- to those who aren't as fortunate as us."

The notion that his company is providing bread to the needy -- a food staple and symbol of Christ's Body -- isn't lost on LaVallee, either.

"If you come into our facility, there are a couple of things you'll notice right away in our foyer," he said. "One is an oil portrait of Blessed Pope John Paul II, to remind us of our respect and dignity and what he's done in the world. And then there's also a framed image that was given to me by my employees and it's St. John's Bible verse on the 'Bread of Life.' We've had our facility blessed and I always keep in mind the correlation between our bakery business and the Eucharist. Bread is pretty much the staple of the world and it's thousands and thousands of years old."

LaVallee said his company isn't interested in getting rid of old or stale product that they probably would have otherwise thrown out, either; they provide surplus and newly-made products to local food pantries.

"We look at it this way: if the person receiving this bread were Jesus Christ Himself -- which He is, because we all believe we are part of the Body of Christ -- then are we giving Him the best we can give Him or just stuff that's leftover?" he asked. "Just think about the gifts that He's given us: our health, our purpose, our business, our family. That's really what the decision comes down to."

LaVallee cited a recent example of how his company strives to treat all people with equal respect and dignity.

"If you go to the St. Francis House in Boston, they have a very small kitchen area but they manage to feed about 1,200 people a day," he said. "If you walk out the back door of the kitchen, it's adjacent to a well-known five-star hotel.

"On Thanksgiving Day if you went to this particular hotel you would have seen breads from LaVallee's set up on all the tables from every country around the world. Just next door inside St. Francis House, the homeless were being served the same exact breads. There's a symbol here: we could just as well give St. Francis House our stale bread, but that wouldn't be showing respect and dignity for all people. To me, it's important to give of the same resources and the same products."

Having been in the bakery business "his whole life," LaVallee said he's been blessed that his company has seen double-digit growth over the last five or six consecutive years -- even despite the economic downturn.

"We've succeeded ever since we embraced these two strong biblical truths: stewardship and servant leadership," he said. "If you're going to continue to manage your company based on spreadsheets and not developing and helping people around you -- your employees, your customers and the community -- then you're going to go through life with an accumulation of wealth, but what good is it? The real goodness is what you can do for other people because it's more Christ-like, it's what God did for us."

LaVallee hopes other businesses in the area will see the benefit of making charitable efforts a priority.

"We're trying to teach other businesses this concept, but not everyone is embracing it," he said. "We see so much good and value in it and not just for us personally."

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 20 edition of The Anchor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River.