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Young embraced change and cultivated compassion as Food Bank of Lincoln head
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Young embraced change and cultivated compassion as Food Bank of Lincoln head

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Scott Young with food

Scott Young, the longest-standing executive director of the Food Bank of Lincoln after 20 years, will retire Friday, April 30.

Food Bank of Lincoln

There have been many changes since Scott Young came on as Food Bank of Lincoln executive director on Sept. 10, 2001, but the way he embraced those changes has made all the difference.

A framed quote on his wall states: “Change: There is nothing permanent but change.”

"I like change,” Young shared. “I think that’s been very good for the organization in terms of new ideas.”

During his tenure, the Food Bank’s outreach and programs have expanded exponentially. A capital campaign launched last year is expected to ensure the efficiency and expansion of the Food Bank for years to come.

Young, a former popular KFOR morning show co-host, wasn’t sure where his career would take him after he completed his communications degree at Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2001. He knew a meeting with longtime friend and former KFOR station manager Brad Hartman was a place to begin.

It was Hartman who unintentionally influenced Young’s future as Lincoln Food Bank executive director when he told him that Wende Baker would soon be announcing her departure. “I mentioned it to him as a news item,” Hartman shared.

A member of the Food Bank Board of Trustees at the time, Hartman went ahead with a national search for its next leader, and Young submitted his application. “It surprised me because it was so different from what he had been successful at,” said Hartman.

Twenty years later, Young is the longest-standing executive director of the 39-year-old organization. But he wasn’t a shoe-in, despite his solid Lincoln citizenship and community ties. When the Food Bank couldn’t come to an agreement with an experienced food banker on salary and benefits, they called him and offered him the job, Young explained.

The right choice

Looking back, Hartman said it was the right choice, explaining that Young has such an ability to communicate about the mission of the Food Bank to the community and to bring in more stakeholders. When Young took over in 2001, the Food Bank was basically a Lincoln resource, Hartman continued, and today it offers services in 16 southeast Nebraska counties.

Young brought along some new ideas, like the Empty Bowls for Hunger fundraising event. When he proposed it to the board in place of the annual golf tournament, he got some pushback. Moving ahead, he asked Kathleen Grossman of Down Under Pottery to craft 100 bowls for the first event. Since 2003, that event has raised $1 million, and annual attendance has grown to 1,000.

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Under Alynn Sampson’s direction, Bridges out of Poverty made its way to Lincoln to help clients find a way out. While not “traditional” food banking activity, the program directly relates to the Food Bank’s mission of alleviating hunger in southeast Nebraska, Young said. “We don’t confine ourselves to food in, food out.”

During a pandemic that has spanned two Food Bank fiscal years now, Young’s leadership and the community’s response have held things together.

Curious how activity is going at the Food Bank of Lincoln? Want to know what we have planned for the coming months? Interested in how we're serving children and families? Want to know how you can help? Answers to all of these questions are available here, in this message from Executive Director Scott Young.

“I’ve tried to be a good listener,” Young said. “When I’ve been successful, listening was an important component of that. From that listening comes our direction and our road map.”

He’s seen terrific giving and outpouring, and said he never tires of signing stacks of thank-you letters on a weekly basis. “It’s pretty rich,” he shared. “The giving and receiving all turn into giving.”

When the pandemic became more than a temporary nuisance, Young spoke with staff about the opportunity it could present. The result? “We’re getting more food out than we ever have in Lincoln,” Young said. It’s on pace to connect 14 million meals this year.

Tough decisions

The organization had to make some tough decisions and focus on its most critical agency partners, like the Center for People in Need, Good Neighbor Community Center, People’s City Mission and food pantries, Young shared. Although it switched its operating model to drive-through and pick-up at area schools and community sites, and it wasn’t able to continue the Lincoln Public Schools BackPack food program this school year, it was able to continue distributing nearly 1,000 backpacks to rural schools on a weekly basis.

The Food Bank forged new partnerships with the Army National Guard last spring and Americorps last fall to distribute food. Those short bursts of support bolstered Food Bank staff members, who were recruited to take part in the no-contact, low-contact distribution efforts as well.

“Great leaders emerged and leaned into change,” Young said. ”We’ve been the best staff and board when we’ve been open to the possibilities. We did more on hope and faith that the resources would be there, and they were.”

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Young was overwhelmed with Give to Lincoln Day contributions last May that doubled any previous figure for the fundraising event. Overall, for fiscal year 2020 the Food Bank took in $6 million in revenue – 50 percent from foundations, many wanting to help during the pandemic; 40 percent from individuals; and 10 percent from corporate and other organizations like churches.

Bruce Wright, a board member for the past nine years who is now working on the Raising Our Response to Hunger Capital Campaign, said that Young was instrumental in initiating the new building campaign to meet the needs of the community and his growing staff. The board voted unanimously to go ahead with it last year.

Food Bank of Lincoln has grown from nine to 35 staff members and from three to 13 programs under Young’s guidance.

Exponential expansion

“It’s just expanded exponentially,” Wright said.

A big part of that expansion has been in child hunger programs. Those programs are close to Young’s heart and serve more than 25,000 today through the LPS emergency pantry, school food markets, food backpack program (started in 2004) and vouchers for student parents.

Alynn Sampson, interim operations and community impact director, noted how personal and real Young’s work is to him.

Scott Young visits with Sarah

Scott Young visits with Sarah, daughter of a staff member at NET, where annual soup luncheons benefited the Food Bank's child hunger programs. Sarah had a $2 donation for the Food Bank, so Young visited with her about giving and gratitude.

“He understands this is an actual person’s life we are impacting,” Sampson said, adding that the compassion level of the entire staff reflects how Young leads the organization.

Working alongside Young for 13 years, Sampson said his belief in her has been a game-changer.

“He just really allows you to grow and be a problem solver,” she said. Young encouraged Sampson to get her master’s degree in social work, not only for herself but for the betterment of the community.

After 20 years as the Food Bank’s head honcho, Young said the organization is poised to grow and thrive.

“I think the pandemic was a great set-up for the new director and new building,” he said. “We’ve shown that we can adapt as a group.”

Young plans to remain on the Food Bank’s Foundation Board and ensure a successful transition for Michaella Kumke, who was named president and chief executive officer on April 1 and steps into her new role May 1.

A valuable mentor

Kumke called Young a valuable mentor who has encouraged her personal and professional development.

“Throughout my six years, he’s always presented opportunities, not pushed them,” she said. “It was up to each of us to take action, and he would encourage that.”

Young recommended that she enroll in the Feeding America LevelUp! Emerging Leaders Program, a 16-week program that brings together food bank peers from across the country to problem-solve.

To the staff and board, Young has communicated the importance of showing up, Kumke said. And when considering change? “Think big, but keep it simple.”

As Kumke steps into her new role, she realizes that one of the most important pieces of advice Young may have imparted is to be calm. Calm amidst a $10 million capital fundraising campaign, calm amidst an ongoing pandemic, calm amidst transition to a new facility and growing demands for food.

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And as she daily takes on messier work than some will ever understand, she says she will hold on to Young’s frequent reminder that, “As hard and stressful and challenging as the day is, it’s harder for the people we serve.”

As Kumke settles in, Young will be transitioning into a new role too – preferably in a professional position with less responsibility that allows him to indulge his passion for serving and spend more time with his three children and five grandchildren.

“I thrive by doing service, the type of thing that will have meaning to the community, because that’s what drives me – family and community,” Young said.

He knows it won’t be easy to make the change, especially because he said with great emotion, “I come here every day and get inspired.”


“I come here every day and get inspired.” - Scott Young

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