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Hays County Food Bank volunteer Thrine Soto, 93, has been the unofficial boss at the agency for the past 25 years, letting other volunteers and sometimes even staff know what they should do with the more than 600,000 pounds of food received each year. PHOTO by KIM HILSENBECK

by KIM HILSENBECK

If Thrine Soto had a resume, it wouldn’t fit on one page.

This 93-year-old San Marcos native and widow has been a mother, grandmother, business owner, water skier, bowler, nurses’s aide and landlord. But for the past 25 years, the one she has done most is volunteer.

Soto started at the Hays County Food Bank in 1986 at the spry age of 68. Back then, Soto says the organization worked out of a little house on the campus of Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State University.

“We had to get ice every day to put in the coolers for the meat,” Soto recalled.

Standing at less than five feet tall, Soto is fiercely independent. She drives, mows her lawn, cleans her gutters, even paints the walls in her home.

Her three grown sons, Jesse, Eddie and Roy, call her every night to check in. The two that still live in the area take her to lunch or for coffee regularly, but Soto said she doesn’t want them to do everything for her.

During a recent interview at the food bank, Soto stopped to direct some volunteers on where to put the agency bags. Earlier, she gave instructions on where to put a pallet.

Three days a week, Soto leaves her home at 7:45 a.m. and heads to the food bank. Her tasks include checking in food, organizing it, weighing it, preparing bags for pickup or distribution, and cleaning the work area.

She works efficiently, striding across the room with the energy of a much younger woman.

“I look forward to coming here,” Soto said. “Everyone cares about me. We laugh, joke, I see my friends.”

Other volunteers and even staff turned to Soto when they have questions. This forthright woman seemed to have a handle on the entire operation.

“I’m not the boss,” Soto said, “but I’ve been here so long people say I’m the boss.”

Behind her, Kirby Rowton, assistant operations manager, smiled and said, “She’s the boss.”

When a young man arrived around 1 p.m. to volunteer, Soto pointed in the direction of the walk-in freezer. She only had one task for him.

“Our work is in the morning,” Soto explained to him. “I always enjoy seeing you, but you have to get here earlier.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Soto said coming to the food bank gives her a chance to help people less fortunate than she.

“Helping somebody else is a good feeling,” she said.

And the million-dollar question: what’s her secret to a long, happy life?

With a wry smile, she shared her formula: two beers a night and Cheetos.

KIM HILSENBECK reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.

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