Virginia Alice Meyer Smith, 89, of Chestnut Hill, the founder and major force behind the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank, died Sunday, Dec. 9, at Cathedral Village in Upper Roxborough.

Mrs. Smith's experience in the Middle East in the 1940s, and her appointment in the 1970s to the Philadelphia Episcopal Task Force on Hunger, paved the way for her life's work - feeding the hungry.

She established the food bank in 1981, and in 1983 became its executive director, a post she held until retiring in 1993. The food bank's mission was to collect, store, and distribute surplus food to charities that needed it.

Under her leadership, the organization grew to become Southeastern Pennsylvania's primary provider of food to the hungry. In 1993 alone, it channeled 9.6 million pounds of food to 500 feeding agencies.

"She became a pivotal player in hunger-relief efforts locally and statewide," her family said.

The food bank no longer exists under its own name. Parts of it were absorbed by other agencies.

A Chestnut Hill native, she graduated from Germantown High School in 1940 and from Wellesley College in 1944 with a bachelor's degree in English. She parlayed her talent acting in summer stock into a broadcasting and public relations job with the Army in Baltimore.

She married Richard Ferree Smith, also of Chestnut Hill, in 1945, and the two went to Gaza, where they worked for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. That work, assisting with hunger-outreach programs for Palestinians, transformed her, she would later tell her family.

Returning to Chestnut Hill in 1951, Mrs. Smith raised five children while volunteering for the Episcopal Church and obtaining a master's degree in education at Beaver College, now Arcadia University.

After 1993, Mrs. Smith traveled widely, contributed to political causes, and indulged her passion for music and theater. A student of Shakespeare, she regularly attended the festival in Stratford, Ontario.

Surviving are daughters Melanie and Meredith; sons Richard Jr. and Trevor; five grandchildren; a great-grandchild; and a sister. A daughter, Tacy, died in 2008. Her husband died in 2007.

An 11 a.m. memorial service will be held Friday, Dec. 21, at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin's Lane, Philadelphia 19118. Donations may be made to the church.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 215-854-2611 or bcook@phillynews.com.