NTFB Virtual Town Hall Recap

The North Texas Food Bank hosted a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 27, to discuss and answer questions from NTFB supporters about how the Food Bank has adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic. President and CEO Trisha Cunningham provided an overview of the pandemic’s impact on food security in North Texas and how the Food Bank has responded to the growing needs of our community.

As she explained, NTFB has had to pivot in several areas to address the current environment. Out of safety concerns, NTFB quickly suspended volunteer operations. To fill that gap, we partnered with Get Shift Done to employ the newly out-of-work hospitality workers to kit food boxes. We also shifted our distribution model to a drive-through process with a low- to no-touch method.

As our need increased, we called upon the National Guard. Currently, 288 National Guard members are helping on our production floor, warehouse, mobile pantry, and in our partner agencies. They will be with us until at least the end of June and we are grateful for their support.

Trisha and Brad Stewart, Chief Operating Officer, also fielded questions from attendees.

Q&A

Trisha, several of our participants wanted to know how you are feeding children this summer?
Trisha Cunningham: Our partner agency feeding network and mobile distributions will continue to be our primary drivers to feed kids as we know if kids are hungry, the family is hungry as well. However, specifically for kids, we are adding on Food 4 Kids bags that have nutritious kid-friendly foods to mobile distributions to help meet the need. Also, we are continuing our backpack programs for schools.

Brad, when will the Food Bank open the production floor for volunteers?
Brad Stewart: As our National Guard team members finish their deployment at the NTFB, we will be hiring temporary staff and bringing back the Get Shift Done team to help us with our efforts. We really miss our volunteers, but at this time we are projecting due to safety and production needs, these alternatives will serve as our workforce at least until the fall.

Trisha, what is the philanthropic need with all of the government assistance that you have been receiving?
Trisha Cunningham: We’re trying to plan for long-term needs. We are receiving support from USDA and FEMA through the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Emergency Management. While these sources of food are a benefit to us, they do mean increased costs in fuel, staffing (especially after we don’t have access to the National Guard resources), and equipment and logistics. The cost to move government commodities on average is 18-19 cents per pound. USDA will provide reimbursement for TEFAP and trade mitigation foods at 8 cents per pound. So we have to fill the gap for what it costs to move this product and we are moving a lot of it these days.

Brad, how are you reaching the rural communities/homebound?
Brad Stewart: The No. 1 distribution approach is through our partner agencies. We’ve eliminated handling fees, and we are providing ready-made kits and access to the National Guard. NTFB is adding in additional rural drops as part of our Mobile Pantry effort. We are also working to continue our Commodities Supplemental Food Program, which provides seniors with a box of more than 30lbs of commodities each month.

Brad, how are you working to shorten the line as it continues to grow?
Brad Stewart: We’re leveraging the spotlight of Covid to undertake several advocacy efforts. We’re starting to see elected officials reach out to us to see how they can support us in an effective way. The Dallas Morning News recently published an editorial about how we need additional SNAP support to help meet this growing need. While the charitable sector is doing more than ever to help, we know these benefits can really help offset some of the financial burden that these families face. We were pleased to learn that Pandemic SNAP will be going into effect with any parent of kids in school who receive reduced or free lunch, receiving $285 per child to help with grocery needs. Also, our partners have started to innovate in how they work with clients on their needs beyond food. Many are shifting to online methods for interviewing clients to help them connect to resources to get them back on their feet.

Trisha, where can people go to find food assistance?
Trisha Cunningham: Our website, Ntfb.org. Right on the front page there is a map to find food pantries and mobile distributions. We are scheduling our mobile pantries about one week in advance. We’re figuring out where the greatest needs are and how often we need to get out there.

Trisha, how has the impact of a dollar changed? What are your increased costs and how much do we anticipate needing to raise to meet the need?
Trisha Cunningham: We know right now that the kitted box model is the safest way to serve our neighbors, but our costs have increased exponentially. This extends to our partner agencies as well which is why we don’t have a handling fee right now. There are so many variables and assumptions that it is difficult to project what the needs will be. Without a second wave and if people are able to safely go back to work, the conservative projections show that needs will be elevated at least through 2021. If things close down due to rising health concerns a second time, that will impact recovery. Also, it will be impacted by the availability of a vaccine/cure which I have read even in the best-case scenario won’t be in 2020. Because we worry about the ongoing recession or depression, we are being conservative in what we expect to raise in the next fiscal year, which for us starts in July. However, we are grateful for the outpouring of generosity as we will continue to use that to help offset shortfalls. We’re also aware there is donor fatigue and donors are experiencing their own hardships.

Can you share the story of someone you’ve met at a distribution?
Trisha Cunningham: What we see is a lot of gratitude. The woman in line at 1:30 a.m. at our latest Fair Park distribution comes to mind. She had been at multiple distributions, including one where she was at the end of the line and was not able to receive food that day. She’s still employed, but was food insecure before, which has now increased and their situations have gotten worse. There was another woman who lost her job, she has a family and needed food for her children. She said, “I just don’t know how long this is going to last or what I’m going to be able to do.”