The Rev. Pat Tobin started his local mission to feed hungry people out of a garage in the 1970s.
He stockpiled food donated from grocery stores and collected leftovers from banquets. He planted gardens at parishes and distributed the food to hungry families and older residents across Kansas City.
But the Catholic priest, who had worked alongside Mother Teresa the decade before, knew more had to be done.
As the Kansas City area said goodbye to Tobin on Tuesday, mourners recalled a man who in 1979 helped found the Harvesters food bank, which now serves a 26-county area. Tobin, who served several parishes over the years and celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest in March, died Friday. He was 86.
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“Father Pat was like a fixture,” said Valerie Nicholson-Watson, president and CEO of Harvesters, who for several years would drive Tobin home from board meetings. “He always kept us focused. It was always about, ‘How can we get more food to more people?’ ”
Tobin’s passion about hunger never let up over the decades as he attracted volunteers to help pack food at Harvesters and attended every board meeting and food bank event he could. Sometimes he would call Harvesters the morning of a meeting just to make sure someone would be picking him up, Nicholson-Watson said.
A 1948 graduate of Maur Hill High School in Atchison, Kan., Tobin continued his education at St. Benedict’s College and graduated in 1952. After four years at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Tobin — born in Maryville, Mo. — was ordained in 1956.
He served in parishes in Kansas City, St. Joseph and Cameron, Mo., among other places. He also conducted a prison ministry and worked to educate people on the need for clean water in developing countries.
He retired from St. Therese Parish in Kansas City, North, where his funeral Mass was held Tuesday. Tobin’s brother, the Rev. Chuck Tobin, concelebrated the Mass with Bishop James V. Johnston Jr.
“We are very grateful about how generous and kind he was,” Chuck Tobin told The Star. “He really did serve a lot of people.”
Through the years, “Father Pat” would often tell the story about the time in the 1960s when he worked with Mother Teresa to help provide retreats for her sisters.
It was then that he saw a young Ethiopian boy stumble to the ground and shovel dirt into his mouth, hoping to keep the hunger pains at bay. That image always stayed with him.
His speeches about the poor were often impassioned.
“A billion people go to bed hungry every night,” Tobin told students at St. Mary’s High School in 2009, according to an article in the Catholic Key newspaper. “A billion people only have putrid water to drink.
“There is absolutely no excuse for that. World hunger does not need to be. Why isn’t there outrage because of that? We can end world hunger in six months if we choose to.”
When Harvesters began, Tobin worked with other community activists and the food industry to collect food that couldn’t be sold but was still edible. Food that otherwise would have been wasted was distributed to the poor. Volunteers collected dented cans and boxed items that had been torn or slightly damaged.
That first year, about 150,000 pounds of food was distributed.
Tobin had been an active member of the board as the food bank grew, even attending May’s board meeting. As of last week, Harvesters had distributed more than 49 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2016, which ends Thursday.
In recent years, Tobin would share information about the need to have clean water in developing countries. He would often keep a water purifer filter in his briefcase and take it out for a demonstration.
“With anybody he met, he was like, ‘I’m not just going to tell you about it, I’m going to show you,’ ” said Nicholson-Watson of Harvesters. “When we shared news about his death with a former board member, she said, ‘I hope there’s clean water in heaven.’ ”