Feeding Neighbors, Building Community: East Texas Food Bank Announces New Strategic Plan

The East Texas Food Bank, East Texas’s largest hunger-relief organization, announces a strategic plan for $11.8 million in investments across its 26-county service area. The plan will work to ensure that the one in five East Texans who are facing hunger have access to the nutritious food they need.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a heightened awareness of hunger in East Texas. We’ve all seen the long lines of cars waiting for hours to receive a free box of groceries. Thankfully, it has also brought out resiliency in our hunger-relief network and unprecedented generosity from our community,” said East Texas Food Bank CEO Dennis Cullinane. “With a renewed sense of understanding and empathy towards hunger in East Texas, now is the time to build upon the momentum and strategically grow our programs to meet the need.”

The announcement comes as East Texas is battling an unprecedented hunger crisis. Texas has the seventh highest food insecurity rate in the nation. Locally, one in five East Texans, including one in four children, are facing hunger. That’s approximately 239,800 East Texans, including 85,450 children.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic hit our most vulnerable neighbors the hardest. Seniors couldn’t safely go to the grocery store. Hard-working parents had to switch to at-home learning and lost the free and reduced meal programs through school. College students lost their jobs when restaurants shut down. We heard so many stories like these from people who had never needed food assistance before the pandemic,” Cullinane said. “Even though our state reopened and the economy is on the path to recovery, we are still seeing an increased need for food assistance. Our response continues to be a marathon, not a sprint.”

To meet the need, the East Texas Food Bank, in collaboration with its network of partner agencies, community leaders and generous donors, will work to ensure people struggling with hunger have access to the nutritious food they need to thrive. In order to do this, the East Texas Food Bank seeks to distribute 32 million meals a year throughout East Texas by 2025.

The East Texas Food Bank will accomplish this ambitious goal through six key strategic initiatives in its highest-need communities:

  1. Major Partner Agency Investment– ETFB will invest in strategic partner food pantries to expand their capacity to provide traditional meal distribution as a primary way to increase local food resources and increase their SNAP outreach and applications.
  2. Resource Centers– ETFB will bring the resource center model started in North Lufkin to other high-need communities. The resource centers will include a client-choice, healthy pantry and other wrap-around support services to provide a one-stop-shop of support for families.
  3. Targeted Direct and Mobile Pantry Distributions– ETFB will continue direct, targeted distributions it started during the pandemic to reach low-income, under-resourced neighborhoods with fresh produce.
  4. Fresh Produce and Purchasing Program– There is a high need for fresh produce, which is crucial for a healthy diet. ETFB will continue scaling its fresh produce and purchased food program to increase the availability and variety of items to its partner agencies.
  5. State and National Advocacy– ETFB will work in partnership with Feeding Texas and Feeding America to secure high-priority public policy, legislation and resources to support the collective, long-term goals to end hunger.
  6. Infrastructure- Key investments will include building out the East Texas Food Bank facilities and fleet and adding the staffing needed to meet this ambitious goal.

The revised strategic plan was made possible in part by a $9 million donation by renowned philanthropist Mackenzie Scott. In late 2020, Scott’s team anonymously researched 6,490 organizations and ultimately chose to invest in only 384. Of the 200 food banks across the U.S., ETFB was one of 42 selected.

In the Medium post, Scott said her team of advisors took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates and low access to philanthropic capital.

Scott noted, “We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached. Our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft.”

“This generous investment in the East Texas Food Bank is a vote of confidence in the work we are all doing together to end hunger in East Texas,” Cullinane said. “Every partner agency, volunteer, donor, staff member, board member and stakeholder should feel proud to receive this recognition and investment.”

However, Cullinane added that the hunger crisis in East Texas is bigger than what any one philanthropist can solve. It will take individuals, corporations, foundations and our local organizations working together to end hunger.

“Ending hunger and its devastating effects in East Texas is within our reach when we all come together to fight hunger. With these investments and continued generosity of all East Texans, we can end hunger together,” Cullinane said.

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