Mark Varnau believes there are two commandments in life: love God and love your neighbor. So when he retired from Hook’s Drug Stores, Varnau decided to devote his time to actively demonstrating his love of those in the community who are less fortunate.
As luck would have it, his church St. Thomas Aquinas was looking for a manager for its food bank. A born organizer and problem solver, Varnau willingly took the job. When he began his entirely volunteer position, the food bank was located in the basement of the parish center at 46th and Illinois streets, and only serving 10 families a month. Eventually that increased to 250 families, but the lack of space and parking limited their ability to help more people.
When the food bank committee decided to relocate the pantry to increase its capabilities, Varnau took on the challenge of fundraising. Over the course of 60 months, he raised $300,000 through grants and donations enabling its move to 42nd and Boulevard Place where it has been for the past six years. The St. Vincent DePaul Boulevard Place Food Pantry, which is run like a retail store where people can “shop” for groceries, is located on the ground floor. It now has ample parking, a walk-in freezer and currently serves about 900 families a month. Though Varnau no longer leads the pantry, he continues to serve as a volunteer each week.
In addition to the food bank, Varnau also volunteers at Gennesaret Free Clinic, an organization that takes care of the medical needs of the homeless and working poor, and Indiana Reading and Information Services (IRIS), a reading service for the blind. Over the years, he has been actively involved with numerous other charities, including the St. Thomas Aquinas Haiti Committee, the International Center, Dance Kaleidoscope, Citizens for Greenspace in Carmel, the Arts Council of Indianapolis and Carmel-Clay Schools. A father of six and foster parent to 10–12 children, Varnau was also part of a foster parent programs.
Commitment is clearly at the heart of Varnau’s giving spirit. “My greatest wish is that more people will find a cause they believe in and stick to it. This city needs more volunteers who are in it for the long haul, rather than those who pop in and out for short-lived events,” said Varnau. “My advice is ‘If you can, do it’ and give as often as you can.”