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Feeding Tampa Bay promotes temp workers to cope with demand

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Kaylie Birdsall, center, at work with Feeding Tampa Bay. Photo provided.

During the first summer of Covid-19, layoffs and economic uncertainty left many Tampa Bay residents resorting to food banks, ensuring they had enough to eat.

Feeding Tampa Bay, a nonprofit that buys and collects food to donate across ten counties in central Florida, says demand for its services increased 150 percent in 2020.

To cope, the organization created a furloughed workers program that brought on extra temporary and full-time staff.

Kaylie Birdsall, a 2010 Eckerd College graduate and experienced restaurant worker, had recently left her management position at a local eatery and was searching for work that more closely aligned with her values. “If I was going to punch the clock for the next 20 years I wanted my labor, skills and brain power to go into something that would benefit my community at large,” Birdsall said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, she found a listing for a unique job created through a partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay and the St. Petersburg Foundation.

According to Matt Spence, chief programs officer at Feeding Tampa Bay, the person filling this position would manage a food truck convoy, or “mobile pantries,” which delivered food bought and collected at the nonprofit directly to its participants, as a form of contactless service adapted for Covid-19 restrictions. The nonprofit hired Birdsall in May of 2020 for what was supposed to be a temporary position.

“Each afternoon we would pick up meals produced by the Hangar and with the help of a handful of local food truck operators we distributed hundreds of meals all over Pinellas County,” Birdsall said. “It was extremely gratifying and a great learning experience.”

But even as demand for food donations leveled out into the fall of 2020, Feeding Tampa Bay was still responding to 60 percent more patrons than before the pandemic.

Eventually, its leaders decided to hire some temp workers full time, a decision employees say allowed them to “rise to the occasion.”

The organization promoted Birdsall to the full-time social enterprise coordinator, a multifaceted position where Kaylie is able to use her management experience to oversee the nonprofit’s day-to-day operations.

Birdsall says the job mainly consists of taking food inventory and packing meals, especially for the organization’s partners. Tampa Bay’s Habitat for Humanity wing is one example of a partner organization that uses the group’s food donations in its own initiatives. When its workers finish constructing a house for someone in need, they use Feeding Tampa to stock the fridge and pantry.

The former temp worker also helps with the FoodRX program, an initiative that matches program participants with nutritious food, in an effort to promote health awareness in communities lacking healthy, affordable options.

Birdsall’s colleagues are not shy to sing her praises.

“Kaylie makes what she does sound really easy, but please understand it’s not,” Kelley Brickfield, assistant director of programs, said. She went on to explain how Birdsall took it upon herself to learn the ins and outs of the nonprofit’s backend processes, including its “very complicated” food inventory software.

Shannon Oliviero, external affairs officer at Feeding Tampa Bay, says the organization hired many workers like Kaylie from the furlough program and other temporary positions created in 2020, as well as in higher-up positions, in order to “meet the need” it was facing.

By expanding its team, Feeding Tampa Bay was able to progress past its main priority of distribution for other organizations and food banks, and provide food directly to communities as well.

According to Spence, the nonprofit is continuously expanding its reach by employing young professionals like Birdsall to find creative solutions in everything from truck driving to logistics coordination.

Feeding Tampa Bay distributed 95 million meals in 2020, across the ten counties it serves.

 

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