Meet Colleen Townsley Brinkmann, philanthropy officer at the North Texas Food Bank where she is responsible for a wide range of projects to build good will, public image and donor services for the non profit with a need that is skyrocketing. The NTFB operates through a network of more than 1,000 feeding programs in 13 counties, working to make sure children, the elderly and families don't go hungry. Brinkmann serves on numerous community boards, including Feeding America's Hunger Action Month Committee.
Non profit work is second nature to Brinkmann. Prior to assuming her role at the NTFB more than a decade ago, she was Director of Communications for Leadership Network and also served with the Greater Dallas Community of Churches in a communications role. While at GDCC, she helped produce the award-winning PBS series "America: The Second Century", that aired nationally for over a decade and won the Bronze award at the 1980 International Film Festival.
Brinkmann lives in Dallas with her husband, Barney and is the mother of their three grown children. Her personal philosophy about life is "live life in neon" and spills over into her creative passion for writing. We wanted to know more about Brinkmann and the NTFB and she was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about the North Texas Food Bank.
Colleen Townsley Brinkmann: The North Texas Food Bank (NTFB) is a nonprofit organization that distributes donated, purchased, and prepared foods through a network of more than 1,000 feeding programs and 260 Partner Agencies in 13 counties. Everyday NTFB provides access to 175,000 meals destined for the people who need them most including hungry children, seniors and families in our community. Our mission is to passionately pursue hunger in North Texas. NTFB is also a member of Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the nation.
DT: Do you think most people understand the scope of the hunger crisis in urban and even suburban areas?
CTB: It seems the issue of hunger has become more visible over the past few years in North Texas but we're continuing to work to educate people that this is in fact a problem that exists in our community. NTFB and our partners see the face of hunger day in and day out. It is the child who saves part of their school lunch to hold them over until tomorrow's breakfast, the senior who must choose between paying for medications or purchasing food, and it's the single mother who recently lost her job- she skips meals to ensure her kids have a little more food in their bellies. These people live near you, they are your neighbor and they are a part of your faith community. We have a variety of programs available to help bridge this hunger gap. One of these programs is Food 4 Kids which provides backpacks to chronically hungry elementary aged children. The kids receive backpacks filled with food every Friday and these non-perishable items help fulfill 60% of the kids nutritional needs for the weekend. NTFB actually just partnered with the Mayor of Plano to expand this program in his city. The city of Plano doesn’t usually come to mind when you think about poverty or hunger, but there are citizens who are struggling with hunger right now. In fact about 1 out of every 3 elementary school kids in Plano ISD is food insecure.
DT: How did you become involved with North Texas Food Bank, and why are you so passionate about the work being done at the NTFB?
CTB: By the time I turned 33, I had lost both of my parents to cancer. I relocated to the United States from my native India and I had graduated from college and started working in the advertising field. I felt that I was called to do something more meaningful with my life. This set me on a journey to find really impactful not for profit, altruistic work. I have held three positions in the non-profit sector and have worked in this field for 25 years, serving 13 of those years at the North Texas Food Bank. I never looked at any of these opportunities as a job. This is what I need to do with my life. I firmly believe that you don’t have to go to another country to find a mission field. It's right here. I am very passionate about the food bank because we operate an efficient and innovative business that has an altruistic skin. This 'skin' is opaque, you can look through it to see the passion from the employees and see the effectiveness and efficiency from the business model and you see that the entire organization, from top to bottom, is committed to the mission.
DT: Why do you work in the nonprofit sector?
CTB: Working in the non-profit sector is incredibly rewarding- our goal here is to feed the hungry and there is always more work to be done. When I came to the food bank 13 years ago, I worked in the organization's communications group which expanded into NTFB's marketing efforts. These days I oversee our philanthropy department. When I stop to think about the food bank then and now, I am astonished by the growth of our efforts and the immense need in our community. This growth wouldn’t be possible without our impactful and effective leadership team and our hard working board of directors. Innovation is encouraged here and we certainly need out of the box thinking as we combat hunger in our community.
DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
CTB: The NTFB is fortunate to be located in a dense urban area that has a strong economy. The community in North Texas has been very responsive of our efforts. We are thankful for the support of the individuals, corporations, foundations and organizations that have worked alongside us over the years. We strive to be transparent, clear and compelling in our communication to our supporters and we work daily to engage the community. NTFB and our board work hard to achieve these goals and the community responds with their support, they are the reason that we can convert $1 into 3 meals. In fact, in just 10 years our database of supporters has grown from 6000 supporters to over 265,000 supporters.
DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
CTB: I believe that we do the most good with $1 and we are grateful to the donors and volunteers that help us further our mission. As we embark on a new fiscal year, we have four requests for our supporters:
- Donate Food: We always need the support of corporate donors who can provide large donations of healthy foods. These include items like fruits and vegetables, whole wheat pasta and shelf stable milk. We also welcome the support of individuals who want to host a canned food drive to benefit NTFB. We love receiving low sodium items that we can share with our neighbors in need.
- Donate Funds: We are thankful to have donor support and want donors to know that every dollar counts! Donors can visit ntfb.org to donate- and now through August 31st donations have twice the impact thanks to the Crowley-Perot Challenge Match. The David M. Crowley Foundation has donated $150,000 for this challenge match and each of the five Perot siblings has donated $200,000 for a cumulative $1.15 million challenge match- these funds will do so much for hungry North Texans.
- Volunteer: We need your time! Come to volunteer at NTFB- it really is the best volunteer experience in town! We especially need your assistance on weekdays.
- Advocate: We are asking for advocates to be our voice. Tell people that hunger is unacceptable and join us in our mission to end hunger in North Texas. Share NTFB information via social media and amplify our reach. We appreciate your help in spreading the word about hunger in our community!
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at the NTFB?
CTB: I participated in a food distribution program called Food For Families. This program gathers clients and volunteers in a parking lot and the volunteers place boxes of food in the trunk of the client's car. These clients were so thankful, seeing their gratitude was incredibly moving. The experience made me realize that hunger can really happen to anyone.
DT: What is the first thing you do when you walk into work each day?
I think the first thing I do is exhale because the day is so jam packed! After that I grab my water and get my computer going. After I check my schedule I make a list of the things I absolutely have to accomplish and then take a moment to say good morning to the incredibly talented people that I work with.
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.