Former leader uses experience to create lasting change

40 Faces of 40 Years Susan Ogborn

Susan Ogborn was President and CEO of Food Bank for the Heartland from 2009 to 2018, and her legacy is still felt today. Susan’s determination and passion helped transform the Food Bank’s operations, brand, and the face of hunger in the Heartland—not to mention moving to our current location at 10525 J Street from the former J Street location.

Throughout her career, Susan has consistently provided a voice to the voiceless. Her background in education, healthcare, and community development equipped her with the necessary skills to provide strategic leadership in our community and address child abuse, advocate for high-quality childcare options for families as a workforce development issue, and assure respect for children with disabilities.

This experience led Susan to Food Bank for the Heartland, where she set out to ensure neighbors across Nebraska and western Iowa received an equitable distribution of nutritious food. But there were hurdles to jump from the start. “I had no idea how hard it would be to be the first woman ever to run this Food Bank. I wanted to bring a concept of excellence and help develop something the team could be proud of.”

Susan says the path wasn’t easy. It took patience, consistency, and lots of small changes. “I started with little things. The first weekend I came in and painted my office. Everybody thought that was so cool. No one ever thought about taking power and making it work for them. It was all little things that added up.”

Ever the instructor, Susan was subtly teaching lessons along the way. “I met with community members and partners. I surveyed the public on our reputation and brought that data back so everyone could see it. It was small, symbolic things. It was finding strength where it existed and singing the song of who we are and where we’re going.”

Once she had the support of the board and staff, everything fell into place. “My biggest accomplishment was building a clear and strong mission and a team committed to that mission. If they came together as a team and knew what a good environment was, they’d never settle for anything less again. Seeing the strength of our team is what I’m most proud of.”

Susan’s resilience paid off. During her tenure, she became a fierce advocate for the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) in which individuals and families gain access to valuable nutrition assistance. Through her leadership, the Food Bank’s SNAP Outreach Team helps thousands of families in Nebraska and Iowa obtain SNAP benefits, and the department has become a model for other Feeding America food banks.

“The outcome was we changed our reputation locally and nationally to being a driver in the food integrity world. And if people believe in you and your mission, they’re much more likely to support you.”

Her smile widens as she reflects on her time at the Food Bank. “It was the best nine years of my life. There were a couple of bad days, but I figure after nine years, if you can count them, then it’s pretty darn good.”

We want to thank Susan for her exceptional leadership which resulted in monumental changes—from evolving hunger and nutrition programs to increasing community awareness, to creating a stronger culture. And of the many lessons Susan passed down that still resonates with our team today, this one rises to the top, “Serve with your whole heart, serve with your whole mind and serve with grit.”

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