Former Executive Director Helps Create Food Bank’s BackPack Program

If anyone has played an instrumental role in the Food Bank’s history, it’s Don Schinzel. Don was named the third Executive Director of Food Bank for the Heartland in 1993. At the time, the Food Bank was distributing 43,000 pounds of food each year. While much has changed since then, Don believes each Food Bank director has been pivotal in evolving the organization.

“I think each director has done a great job increasing the number of agencies and pounds of food distributed. I hope I enhanced it. Susan Ogborn moved it way far ahead and Brian Barks has moved it even further. That’s why it’s good to not stay forever because you run out of ideas, someone new comes in and you move it further ahead,” says Don.

While Don says it wasn’t part of his plan to work at the Food Bank, he knew he needed a change after retiring early from his banking career. “I couldn’t sit at home and a friend of mine said the Food Bank was looking for an Executive Director. It was something I thought I could do, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve always told people, I continued in banking, just in a different form.”

The world of Food Banking was not something Don was accustomed to, but he had a passion for helping children. After immersing himself in Food Banks across the country, he learned about a program dedicated to providing weekend meals to elementary students known as the BackPack Program. “This particular food bank was doing a version of this program really well and I thought, we need to do this in Omaha to help our community.”

And he did just that. Food Bank for the Heartland started the BackPack program in 2006, while Don was still the Executive Director. In its initial year, BackPack meals were distributed to three schools in Omaha. In 2022, the program distributed BackPack meals to 256 schools across Nebraska and western Iowa.

Don says the program is a true testament to the past and current leaders of the Food Bank. “How the BackPack program has progressed is amazing. I could not have imagined how far it’s come. That’s exactly why you need new directors. At the time I was involved, I could not have imagined we would be in that many schools. And to think you won’t stop there, you’ll most likely do more.”

Don had several other accomplishments as Executive Director. He’s proud of the awareness he created around childhood hunger—including the creation of the BackPack and Kids Café programs. “For me it’s always been about the kids. Adults are more capable of taking care of themselves. But if kids are hungry, they can’t do anything about it. Somebody needs to help them.”

At the end of the day, he’s most proud of being part of the Food Bank’s mission. “The 15 years at the Food Bank were probably the best 15 years of my life because I was helping people that couldn’t help themselves. It wasn’t about anybody except the people you serve.”

Don has enjoyed watching the Food Bank evolve after his tenure, and he believes it’s in great hands for the future. “I was the one who hired Brian Barks as Director of Development. I am so proud of Brian and where he has taken this organization. He and the entire team are doing great things for our community.”