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Like the vast majority of people involved in longtime community service, Wilsonville resident Leigh Crosby’s experience with volunteerism began at an early age.

Now in her early 50s, Crosby recounts serving as a candy striper at then-Legacy Meridian Park Hospital when she was still in high school. Named for the red- and white-striped jumpers worn by early candy stripers, the name now simply refers to hospital volunteers.

Before that, the value of community service was drilled into her through years spent as a Brownie and Girl Scout.

“It’s really funny, because, and they don’t have them any more, but I was in high school and I was a candy striper,” said Crosby, smiling at the memory. “You get the little candy stripe vest and you’d go visit the patients and take them magazines. I don’t even know how I got started in that.”

Today, Crosby is known around Wilsonville and further afield for her years of dedicated work on behalf of community service group Wilsonville Community Sharing and the associated Wilsonville Food Bank. In addition, she now plays an integral role each year planning and organizing Wilsonville’s Relay for Life and the Wilsonville Kiwanis Kids Fun Run. Somehow, she also finds time to volunteer to teach both kids and adults with learning disabilities as part of nonprofit group Help Eliminate Learning Problems.

And all of that comes after she looks after her husband, Steve, and the couple’s children. While 20-year-old Alexa now lives on her own, sons Steven, 18, and Nick, 15, still live at home and attend Wilsonville High School.

It’s a lot of work, and this year Crosby is being singled out for her efforts on behalf of others by the Rotary Club. Crosby is one of the four finalists for this year’s Wilsonville First Citizen Award, given to the individual that best exemplifies the club’s motto of “Service above self.”

Other finalists this year are Vern Wise, Steve Perry and Kathryn Whittaker.

The four finalists will be honored, and the First Citizen Award winner will be announced at Treasures of Wilsonville: The 2014 Heart of Gold Banquet. This gala event, now in its 13th year, will be held starting at 5 p.m. March 15 at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn, 25425 SW 95th Ave., Wilsonville.

“It is an outstanding group of finalists,” Rotary Club President John Holley said. “We were looking for people who believe, as we do, in putting service above self. We think we have found those people.”

The event will include a silent and a live auction filled with items and experiences provided by local businesses and residents. Admission to the awards banquet, with choice of entree, is also included. Tickets are $50 each, or $400 for a table of eight. The tickets can be purchased from Bob Harland at 503-705-9727, online at wilsonvilleheart.com.

At home at the food bank

In a previous life, before children, Crosby worked in corporate sales. After the birth of her youngest son, Nick, in 1998, she finally felt the time was right to again become involved in the outside world.

“The food bank had just been started, and there was no hired person,” she said.

She volunteered for the next year, working on Tuesdays, and watched as the demand for the food bank’s service grew substantially. Working the winter holiday season in 1999, the food bank became inundated with requests for help. Afterward, it was decided the demand for service had reached the point where a change of direction was needed.

“It got to be so much they decided to hire a person to do it,” Crosby said. “I figured I could save them enough money to pay for my part-time salary, so I applied.”

She put a stop to inefficient procurement practices and streamlined other procedures, saving the organization money in the process. It filled Crosby with a sense of satisfaction that continues to the present day.

“The motto that goes, ‘Do what you love, love what you do?’ That’s me,” she said. “In sales before, you have a quota to meet, but now it’s like, ‘I fed 57 people today.’ So that’s pretty cool. In the old days, your boss is like, ‘You have to do this.’ But now I’m doing something great with my time, I’m not told I need $200 an hour in sales. I just get to help people and put food on their tables.”

One of her favorite memories at the food bank involves a longtime homeless client.

“Years ago a homeless gentleman at Christmas time brought me a book,” she said. “And he had signed it because he knew I liked to read. It’s a book I would never read, but I’m never going to get rid of it, either. It was signed, ‘From all of us at the (Baldock) rest stop, thanks for what you do.’”

In Crosby’s world, that type of response is worth a lot more than money.

“Many of us are maybe a paycheck away from being in a situation where we may need help,” she said. “And it’s nice to know that people know where to go to get help. I have such a great group of volunteers. A lot of them have been there as long as I have. It’s a great group of people who enjoy coming in and helping others.”

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