- Associated Press - Saturday, April 12, 2014

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - Debra Johnson-Tourigny is used to making things happen.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that the near lifelong Huntington resident was able to step in as president of the board of directors for the Huntington Area Food Bank - a volunteer position - and pull it out of a tailspin.

Since Johnson-Tourigny took the reins of the board in February 2013, the food bank has been able to distance itself from an embezzlement scandal that involved the removal of a previous director, avoid losing the right to serve Southern Ohio and parts of Kentucky, straighten some of its practices and re-install a sense of normalcy.

For the work she has done with the now renamed Facing Hunger Food Bank, Johnson-Tourigny has been selected as the 2013 recipient of The Herald-Dispatch Zack Binkley Award for Community Service.

“After the unfortunate embezzlement incident with the former director, most people would have wanted to distance themselves from the organization,” wrote Margaret Mary Layne, executive director of the Huntington Museum of Art. “Debbie, however, agreed to become president of the organization and lead the board of directors at a time of terrible distress and confusion.

“If Debbie had not taken the stand that she did and had not devoted her time, an alternate scenario could certainly have been that our food bank would have closed down. This is not an exaggeration.”

An insurance agent for nearly three decades, Johnson-Tourigny said she looked at the food bank situation as something she could fix.

“It was the first time I have felt so strongly that, as we ran into problems, I could take the lead,” Johnson-Tourigny said.

She had been involved in volunteer work with local agencies, from the Marshall Artists Series to the Huntington Museum of Art to the Cabell Huntington Hoops Family Hospital for Children. But her role had always been that of a background player.

As soon as she was named president of the board of directors for the food bank, she realized it was a different ball game.

“I didn’t realize how visible this is,” she said. “In the past, no one knew anything about me. We would go do what we were going to do and have a good feeling and move on to the next thing.

“Then, I become the president of the food bank and as soon as the door opens, the press was asking me what my strategic plan was for the next 12 months. Talk about a deer in the headlights.”

It was a difficult position, but Johnson-Tourigny happens to be an expert in strength through adversity.

She’s had to carve her own path through a swath of obstacles ever since she decided to leave Marshall University before graduating to learn her father’s trade as an electrical engineer.

When that opportunity evaporated, Johnson-Tourigny found herself without a degree and without any prospects for a career.

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