Dave Zarek: Lifelong Leader, Inspiring through Action

A life-altering wrestling injury ended community activist Dave Zarek’s plans to attend the Naval Academy. “At 19 years old, I died on the operating table,” he said. Multiple major surgeries and a grueling journey to re-learn how to walk pushed him toward an unknown future. Instead of resentment or cynicism, Dave developed a driving devotion to helping others overcome difficult circumstances, and that commitment is especially felt at Gleaners Community Food Bank.

“I look at everything in a positive light. I’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations in my life when it comes to my back, but it’s become the story of my life to turn negative into positive. For me, that means helping people,” Dave said.

The Journey to ‘Stamp Out Hunger’

Dave began a career with the United States Postal Service (USPS) as a clerk at the airport mail center. He then moved into Consumer Affairs, where he found a silver lining in the difficult role of listening to complaints every day. “It’s a tough job,” he said. “But all of it helps you grow.”

Dave eventually moved into marketing for USPS as an advertising and retail specialist. That’s where he began his involvement in a lifelong passion project: Stamp Out Hunger, the National Association of Letter Carriers’ annual, nationwide food drive held each May.

“I was involved the tail end of the very first year it happened in 1991 and have been fully involved every year after,” said Dave. “Gleaners got in my heart when I came in the first time. We did a time-lapse video of all the food from Stamp Out Hunger coming into Gleaners, and all the stock shelves were empty. The food we collected filled up the whole aisle, all the way up to the top. I watched that and thought, ‘We did this. The carriers came through.’ And I was hooked.”

Addressing Hunger Takes a Postal Village

Dave represents the Michigan State Association of Letter Carrier’s Branch 1, which includes all Detroit 482__ city locations, along with Southfield, Garden City and Livonia. Under Dave’s charismatic leadership, the Stamp Out Hunger food drive has grown and thrived, thanks largely to his knack for turning strangers into friends and friends into advocates to help solve hunger.

Reflecting on a strong network of supporters, from business and community leaders to media personalities to professional sports players, Dave said,. “Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky to meet people and cultivate relationships that turn out to be phenomenal. Those are the kinds of talents I want to utilize to assist in any way I can help to hit the goal, feed people, get these little kids’ bellies full. A lot of people are one paycheck away from needing assistance. Not everyone has great jobs where they can stash money away, and a lot of people are struggling.

“That leads to my passion for the Stamp Out Hunger food drive. My goal every year is to just bring in one pound more than last year. At one point, all of Southeast Michigan hit 1.28 million pounds of food collected in one day. That’s impressive. We’ve been fluctuating because of COVID, but the goal is to get it back there.”

First Class Delivery of Care for Community

Now 65 and retired from the post office, Dave not slowing down in his retirement and fills every day with full-time volunteer service for Gleaners and others. “Stamp Out Hunger is a passion of mine, and it always will be. I won’t let that go. Food Drive Day is on my calendar every year, like Christmas. It’s the event that you don’t want to miss!”

Dave has big goals for this year’s Stamp Out Hunger drive, coming up on Saturday, May 11, 2024. “My carriers do 1.1 million deliveries in the areas we cover. Can you imagine 1.1 million cans of food? If everybody put one can on their porch, we’d have to bring in more trucks! Think about all the people you could help with that and how uplifting it would be!”

Beyond Stamp Out Hunger, for which Dave has given innumerable hours and helped collect millions of pounds of food to share with the community, Dave has undoubtedly made an incredible impact at Gleaners. He has partnered with community organizations and businesses toward significant fundraising efforts, is a regular volunteer, serves on Gleaners’ Speakers Bureau, and donated time and talents on Gleaners’ Development Committee. He even brought postal inspectors to Gleaners to volunteer – getting them on their hands and knees to help weed the garden. “Nobody was expecting that,” he said with a smile.

He encourages everyone to put themselves in the shoes of the families helped by donations. “Everybody’s been in a position of feeling down or needing help,” he said. “I felt the lowest in my life when they told me I’d never walk again, but I had a doctor that said, ‘I think I can help.’ And when you have people – or just one person – who shows they believe in you, and you’re worth helping, the benefit is endless.”

From that pivotal moment he came back to life, he’s been living for others every day, taking every step – tentatively at first and now, decades later, firmly, and confidently – toward making the world a better place for his neighbors. For all you do to help us feed our community: Thank you, Dave!