The Business of Feeding Texas

The Business of Feeding Texas | vcfo

Feeding Texas oversees food banks in 251 counties grouped across 21 districts, each with a central food bank responsible for managing regional food acquisition and distribution. A far-too-familiar rash of recent disruptions (COVID, inflation, etc.) has made it increasingly tough for them and other organizations like them to meet the needs of food-insecure citizens. To sustain their missions moving forward, it’s important that food banks reflect on the contributors to the current climate and what needs to change in how they operate.

Not Business as Usual

Texas food banks receive limited government funding and have mostly relied on private donations to support operations and procure needed food. One of the largest food sources historically—donated near-end-of-shelf-life food from grocers—has dwindled due to supply chain challenges. This deficit has compelled many food banks to purchase higher volumes of food themselves, typically at higher-than-historic costs. As a result of this and other operational cost increases, their financial reserves have been weakened.

Like other organizations, food banks have also faced significant staffing challenges as they’ve been unable to adequately maintain critical volunteer levels in light of various requirements and recruiting difficulties. With employees forced to work overtime to bridge the gap, many leaders enacted financial incentives designed to retain these employees so that sufficient staffing remained in place.

Food bank leadership would be wise to recognize that these and other recent disruptions will likely not be one-time occurrences. Experts expect another global pandemic at some point. The impacts of climate change are increasing in frequency and severity (highly significant to agriculture and food production). Economic volatility is expected to persist. And while food products will continue to be available, the cost of acquiring them may become prohibitive for low-income individuals and most food banks.

Adapting to Meet the Mission

Food banks need to adapt if they are going to continue to meet the needs of Texas’ food insecure. In part, this means a stronger and more proactive emphasis on financial planning and investments in the future.

As members of the Feeding America and Feeding Texas networks, Texas food banks must maintain a minimum level of reserve funds to enable them to purchase food should donations be insufficient to meet their needs. To do so amid more disruptions, greater emphasis must be placed on forecasting and maintaining adequate reserve levels to help offset the corresponding financial impacts that disruptions bring.

New technology investments and applications can also help food banks reduce costs and increase productivity in the long-term. For example, warehouse and fleet management applications can save money by improving labor and fuel efficiency. Technology is also changing how food is produced, especially in regions where nature is no longer providing adequate resources. Hydroponic farming in warehouse settings is one means of food production that is becoming more cost-effective and could prove to be a vital resource should global warming worsen.

Larger food banks have also proven the benefits of investing in commercial kitchens. These settings enable them to process food that is approaching the end of its shelf-life and then flash-freeze and package it, thereby extending the utility of the food by many months. Additionally, investment in freezers throughout a service area would allow food banks to distribute more food less frequently, thereby reducing the cost of food distribution while providing more meals.

While food banks are known for serving the food insecure in the communities where they are located, they haven’t necessarily financially invested in those communities in other ways. Recently, some larger food banks have invested in the construction of community gardens. Not only can these gardens produce much-needed produce for the food insecure, but they also operate without reliance on the supply chain and have the added benefit of enhancing the community and bringing people together.

Change for the Better

Texas food banks play a vital role in meeting the needs of the food insecure in the communities they serve. However, recent events have highlighted the need for these organizations to elevate their financial planning and investment in operations to ensure they are prepared for major events moving forward.

Food banks can start by shoring up their reserves, investing in technology and capital improvements, and investing directly in the communities they serve. By taking a proactive approach, food banks can ensure they are in a stronger and more sustainable position to meet the needs of Texas’ food insecure.

*This article was originally published in the Q4 2022 edition of Texas CEO Magazine.