In the past 2 ½ years as CEO of the North Texas Food Bank, our team has responded to several crisis situations in addition to serving the 800,000 people in our 13-county service area that don’t know where their next meal is coming from. NTFB and our partner agency Feeding Network has provided food for Hurricane Harvey evacuees, those impacted through the government shutdown as well as tornado victims. What we are facing with this COVID-19 pandemic is different and our response is also different to meet this growing need.

I am a huge fan of leadership development and have been fortunate to attend several programs throughout my career. I sometimes have the chance to also speak to others on leadership. One topic I speak about is being BOLD. Perhaps now, more than ever, this rings true has and is amplified through the lens of COVID:

B – Believe in yourself and others

One of the most important responsibilities as a leader is to hire a great team — then, entrust them to do their work. As leaders, our job is to break down barriers, prioritize and support the efforts that will make the most impact. No one person can do everything by themselves. For this crisis, we have assembled a cross-functional Pandemic Task Force with about 20 team members that each have responsibility for their areas. We formally meet twice a week (via Skype) to review what is changing, address issues/questions and talk about how our leadership team can provide support to enable their success as they serve our community. 

O – Open to new opportunities

Leadership requires flexibility, continued learning and applying best practices in a dynamic environment. With this crisis, we had to totally change our business model from bulk product distribution to pantries that would provide a grocery-like shopping experience to one that would be safe — kitted boxes of shelf stable food and produce that could be distributed with minimal contact to hungry neighbors. All the plans we had in place had to be put on the side to meet the demands of the new environment. 

L – Lead and be led

In times of uncertainty it is more important for leaders to lead, communicate and set clear direction. However, it is also a time when other team members can shine.  We let our team know that this was not ‘business as usual’ for the Food Bank. We put some initiatives on the back burner and prioritized what was going to be most meaningful as we anticipated the flip of our business model and surge of demand. Team members flexed their skills and stepped up to new challenges. Through this, we were able to see the breadth of passionate leaders who were ‘all in’ to help us accomplish our mission even outside the boundaries of the role they may have been hired to do. They often brought a different perspective that helped to solve problems. 

D – Differentiate yourself

As a leader, you cannot rest on your laurels and continue to do the same thing just because it worked yesterday. You must be aware of the current situation and be able to look around the corner to prepare for what might be coming. With volunteers dwindling, we needed a different solution. Our board chair had an idea. Over a weekend, the ‘Get Shift Done’ solution was put in place to have donors contribute to a fund (at the Communities Foundation of Texas) pay for hospitality industry workers to work shifts (managed by ShiftSmart) that were formerly filled by our North Texas Food Bank volunteers.  It was put into place with workers onsite in less than a week. We have shared what we have learned with other non-profits and food banks from across the country. Now with the National Guard supporting our work, these employees were able to pivot tosupport other nonprofits in North Texas. It’s a win-win. 

There are so many examples of how our team has flexed to meet the challenges that are in front of us with this pandemic. Extremely proud of the collective BOLDness of leaders at the North Texas Food Bank, our board, donors, our Feeding Network of partner agencies, other nonprofits/companies, elected officials, the Feeding America Network, the Feeding Texas Network, and our collective community. Together, we can lead the charge against hunger in our community by being BOLD.

Trisha Cunningham

President and CEO of NTFB