A Look Back

One year ago, the world changed in unimaginable ways.

We were officially facing a global pandemic with businesses closing, schools moving online, and people everywhere navigating the uncharted waters of what this meant for them and their families. Like so many, I can still remember what some of my last “normal” activities were and my personal feelings of uncertainty regarding the scope of this unknown crisis we were confronting.

President and CEO Trisha Cunningham

As the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic became more fully realized, the North Texas Food Bank swiftly began its crisis response, completely flipping the way we operate to ensure safety and efficiency in reaching North Texans experiencing hunger, many for the first time. As I previously wrote about in my 2020 reflections, we could not have done this without the support of our staff, board, volunteers, Partner Agency network, local, state and federal government, and all of the community members and organizations who donated time and funds when they saw their neighbors struggling in unprecedented ways.

We approach this anniversary with thoughtful reflection, as well as hope. We are optimistic that with growing widespread availability of a vaccine, more North Texans will be able to return to work and school and economic recovery can begin. But we also know that many of our neighbors will still feel the impacts of the pandemic for months or even years to come, and we are prepared to sustain our efforts for as long as it is needed.

While it is important to reflect on the past, as an organization, we are also focused firmly on the future. I am eager to take with me the following lessons learned and refined during this tumultuous year to lead the North Texas Food Bank in the next phase of fighting hunger.

Trust your team. We have a hard-working and committed NTFB team that cares deeply about our community. It is heavy to know that if we are not successful, then people go hungry. Throughout the pandemic, the staff’s dedication to our response and to our neighbors was unwavering – often requiring them to be flexible and serve wherever hands were needed most. This last year I have watched our team completely flip the way we serve our community – significantly changing our business model at the onset of the pandemic to provide nutritious kitted boxes of food that could be delivered in a low- to no-touch method and ramping up support for mobile distributions and our Partner Agencies. I have also witnessed the staff reimagine the ways we engage our community, from new virtual offerings, remote volunteers, creative events and innovative fundraising. Trusting in their talents and expertise empowered staff to respond and invent effectively, and I look forward to seeing the continued innovation as we launch new initiatives to assist our hungry neighbors.

Lean into your network. When the world changed, our board members, donors, and elected officials and government agencies helped make possible everything our staff was able to accomplish through generous funds and resources. Texas National Guard troops were deployed to assist in getting food to our Partner Agencies and Get Shift Done workers stepped in on the production floor. Both have been valuable additions to the Food Bank family. Likewise, our network of more than 200 Partner Agencies also moved mountains to ensure the needs of their local communities were met. We have provided more than 119 million meals since the pandemic began, and it would not be possible without our Feeding Network and their efforts. As we move forward, I know more than ever that the Food Bank does not do it alone, and our fortified relationships with the community will allow as to achieve even more in the fight against hunger.

Progress is better than perfection. It is in my DNA to want to do the best and provide the best for our community. The COVID crisis was unlike anything we had ever experienced due to its widespread impact, so NTFB had to learn new processes and connect to new resources. We had to be willing to take risks and if we tried something and it did not work, we just had to make it better next time. I have learned to be okay with that. While I hope we do not ever have to respond to a pandemic again, we have documented our best practices for future crisis situations.

Focus on the future. COVID has been a galvanizing mechanism for our organization and network, allowing us to demonstrate our capability. We have grown muscles we did not know we had before the pandemic and our Feeding Network has too. NTFB is committed to investing our time and resources in growing our infrastructure to meet the current need brought upon by COVID-19 and beyond. This includes taking a deeper look into the equitable distribution of food; facilitating growth in new communities of high need; and addressing the root causes of hunger. We look forward to working with all our partners, volunteers and community supporters to expand the ways we address chronic hunger in North Texas.

Yes, one year ago, the world changed in unimaginable ways. And the full impact of the pandemic is likely still not entirely known. But also, one year ago, friends, neighbors and strangers demonstrated unimaginable kindness in helping their communities and proving we are stronger together.

Hunger existed before the pandemic and it will exist after. The North Texas Food Bank will be here, and we are forever grateful for the support and partnership that will allow us to take all we have learned this past year and continue the hunger fight in North Texas in the years ahead. Thank you.

Trisha Cunningham is the President and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank.