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Office Doors: A Day with Dave Richins President + CEO of United Food Bank

Office Doors As told to | Julie Coleman

6 a.m. >> AN APPETITE FOR NEWS I like to read the news for an hour or so when I get up. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I try to keep up on the latest case counts in Arizona, unemployment numbers, and how the state’s economy is doing. This information helps us understand and project what we might see the next day and in the coming weeks. I’ll also have a quick breakfast before heading into the office.

8:30 a.m. >> A COACH’S APPROACH TO LEADERSHIP I have one-on-one check-ins throughout the week with my seven-member senior leadership team to get a general idea of how things are going and make sure they have what they need for the day. I view myself as more of a coach than a boss. I am there as a sounding board, somebody they pitch ideas to, and empower them to make decisions. I am not the smartest guy in the room. The most important thing I have come to understand is to rely on your experts to do their jobs and not micromanage them. Empower them, let them make decisions, and let them fail. It’s O.K. if they sometimes fail because it will build that inventory of learning. Sometimes they fail because they weren’t collaborative enough or they didn’t ask the right questions. But we have that “aha” moment together, regroup and make another decision. My team is smart, and they make my job easy.

10 a.m. >> TEAMWORK IS THE KEY INGREDIENT Right now, there are a lot of Zoom meetings where we meet with a donor or corporate entity that has questions about what we’re doing and might want to support us financially or logistically. I often have calls with collaborative partners, like the Mesa Chamber of Commerce or Valley of the Sun United Way, where we check in with each other. I lead a call for the Mesa Chamber’s Nonprofit Vitality Council, where we share best practices and how we’re responding to pandemic issues. There are many conversations happening, so I try to mentor other nonprofit leaders so they can understand what we’re doing and follow our lead because we’ve been at the forefront of the pandemic response from a feeding standpoint.

Noon >> BREAKING BREAD IS ESSENTIAL I try to always have a meaningful lunch with somebody who affects our work — an employee, donor or vendor. Having served as a politician and lobbyist, going to lunch is a habit I fell into. Spending concentrated time away from the office and phones, just getting to know somebody or resolving concerns. Lunches are important from a social and business standpoint and that doesn’t change for nonprofits. I love to explore the Asian food restaurants on Dobson Road. It’s the best-kept secret in the Valley!

1 p.m. >> ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS At least twice a day, I walk through our 43,000-square-foot warehouse and check in with our workers as they fill orders for 200-plus agencies in five counties throughout Arizona, as well as seven reservations. They are the bread and butter of what we do, so I make sure I am visible. I’ll grab a broom and clean the floor, hop on a forklift and move stuff if I need to. Anything I can do to support them. Mostly, I stay out of the way because they are very capable, but they also know that if they need a hand, I am the first to jump in. I want to send the message that we’re in this together, whether you work in an office or drive a forklift. We are interdependent.

2:30 p.m. >> A DIVERSE, HUMAN CONNECTION We have a new board chair who has a fantastic hunger story, including relationships he had as a young boy in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. To have somebody on our board with such a deep history dealing with poverty and hunger issues is fantastic. Any time I have an opportunity to be mentored by him, I take it. I tap into each board member according to their expertise as we have a diverse cross-section of individuals who represent the voices of those we serve. I always think of the old-time phone operator, where they plug in to make the connection. Now that’s all done automatically. A relationship with the board of directors isn’t something that functions on an automated switch. It’s a lot of manual work. But I reap the benefit by having people I can go to, regardless of the issue. It’s been tremendous for me as the CEO of an organization to have that kind of resource.

3:30 p.m. >> ADAPTING THE RECIPE The pandemic had big-time impacts on the food bank. Typically, we distribute 1.6 million pounds of food a month and now it’s 2.3 million pounds a month. That’s a pretty dramatic increase to absorb almost overnight. As Friday distributions at our volunteer center surpassed the location’s capacity, we moved our distribution to a contactless drive-thru model at the Mesa Convention Center beginning March 27. As this pandemic unfolds, it looks like we’re going to be at the convention center at least until September, and maybe later, as they have events that continue to cancel. In addition to that, Waste Not delivers 4,000 prepared meals to homeless shelters, homeless programs and other feeding programs that need prepared, ready-to-eat food. We had a very robust spring from a fundraising standpoint. That has tapered off quite a bit, but the demand has not, so we’re burning through cash pretty rapidly. We’re actively raising money to do what we need to do at a much higher rate than we’re used to. The food bank is chronically in need of volunteers as they are the straw that turns the drink. Food drives dried up, so we pivoted to have virtual food drive opportunities.

6:30 p.m. >> ENDING THE DAY WITH THE CREAM OF THE CROP I go home and fix dinner for the family. I love to cook, and it’s a way I relax. I spend time with the kids, find out about their day, and then two nights a week, I walk with my “old man” walking group. They’re a fun group of former legislators, former mayors and different businesspeople who make sure we get our steps in to stay healthy.

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