A Spotlight on Bo Soderbergh: TAFB’s Top Executive Fighting the Invisible Fight for 20 Years
At the age of 47, Bo Soderbergh found his life’s calling, and it was far from what he expected.
Growing up in Sweden and living in multiple countries including Japan, Italy, England and the United States, Bo worked in a variety of industries with a wanderlust for travel and culture. In 1969, he found his way to Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas where he got his education and then moved on. But little did he know that Fort Worth would come calling again years later.
“I love Fort Worth,” he beams with his signature smile. “It’s a wonderful place to carry out a mission I’m proud to support every day.”
Feeding the Hungry for Two Decades
In August of 1997, Bo Soderbergh became only the third executive director of Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB), the largest hunger relief charity in a 13-county jurisdiction, and one of the largest in the state of Texas. At the time, the food banking industry was vastly different from what it is today. Many attribute significant industry advancements to Bo and his team, but he would never tell you that himself. What he would tell you is how the changes in hunger relief have made a significant difference for the people who go hungry every day.
“Twenty years ago, food banks were known for dented cans, damaged boxes and products with short expiration dates,” said Bo. “The mission then as now was to get food to people. Calories were deemed more important than nutritional content. Today, that’s completely changed.”
A Fresh Move
A shift in the business model of the grocery store industry opened up new and exciting partnerships that allowed more fresh food to end up at food banks instead of landfills and TAFB capitalized on that change.
“If you’re old enough to remember back to even 20 years ago, grocery stores were very different,” reflected Bo. “A majority of the products on the shelves were nonperishables while produce, dairy and frozen food sections were quite small. But today, more than 50% of a major supermarket is stocked with perishable product, the most visible being large produce sections.”
The shift from boxes and cans to fresh produce was a significant one, and not without its own unique challenges.
“Today, we receive around 12 million pounds of donated produce and other perishables from the grocery store industry alone,” said Bo. “And to be honest, there are times when we struggle to keep up. The shelf life on a fresh tomato is vastly shorter than on a can of tomatoes which means we have to move everything that can spoil out to the community as quickly as possible. To compound the challenge, many of our 270 food distribution partners don’t have enough, or any, refrigeration or freezer space to accommodate the large amount of fresh and frozen products we now offer.”
Innovating once again, Bo and his team have partnered with a local company to provide free refrigerators and freezers to local food pantries. “Our goal is to make the distribution of nutritious food as seamless as possible. And over the last 10 years, we’ve improved our distribution system so that we can more easily accept fresh and frozen foods and get it into the hands of hungry people immediately.”
Building the Future
Along with the sounds of forklifts, 18-wheelers shifting gears and pallet jacks, today the buzz of chain saws and jack hammers fill the air at the 76,000-square-foot Distribution Center located at 2600 Cullen Street in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We’re undergoing a major renovation,” explained Bo. “Based on the need to get more food out into the community, we’re growing our capacity. Right now, we can provide around 25 million nutritious meals each year across our 13-county area. After the renovation is complete, we’ll be able to provide closer to 45 million.”
In his 20 years as the leader of Tarrant Area Food Bank, Bo has seen his share of changes, but one thing remains consistent and that’s the lack of understanding around the issue of hunger.
“Hunger is so far under the radar that most people don’t even realize that one in six people in North Texas don’t get enough food to eat on a regular basis. One in four of those are children. Hunger is invisible which is why we work hard every day to be sure that food is there for anyone who needs it. And we work to educate the public that hunger is only as far away as your next door neighbor.”
The Next Chapter
Set to retire in 2020, Bo is not only reflecting back over his 20 years of feeding the hungry, but also looking forward. “I have seen great progress in hunger becoming a community problem to solve and not just a food bank problem. It excites me to see mayors, community leaders and advocates working together to find better solutions. I believe we’re only at the beginning of those kinds of partnerships. I’ve seen TAFB go from being a band-aid to a temporary problem to an established institution providing help to our community.”
Bo won’t measure his legacy on how many pounds of food got distributed or how many buildings got build, but rather on what has mattered most to him every day for the past 20 years which is helping to make sure that no one in our community has to go hungry.
“In all of my travels and past careers, I’ve never experienced anything as dynamic as I have in the past 20 years. It’s a joy to serve.”
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