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He's king of the road when it comes to Food Bank deliveries
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He's king of the road when it comes to Food Bank deliveries

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Helping Thousands in Need

Tim Smiley answered a "driver wanted" ad that changed his life. Today, he's helping thousands in need, coordinating deliveries for Food Bank for the Heartland. Smiley's 12-hour days include the distribution of fresh produce to agencies across Nebraska and western Iowa in an initiative supported in part by a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. 

With the holidays fast approaching, Tim Smiley is braced for busy. He has been working 11- to 12-hour days since mid-October, a pace that's likely to continue for several more weeks.

“It’s a madhouse basically – not a lot of downtime,” he says.

Smiley is not in retail. He is in outreach, serving on the front lines of receiving and distribution as warehouse and transportation manager for Food Bank for the Heartland.

The 35-year-old nonprofit serves a 78,000-square-mile swath of Nebraska and western Iowa, providing food to more than 250,000 people annually.

Smiley, a former driver, coordinates food pickups from grocery stores, food manufacturers and corporate food drives. He oversees the warehouse where donations are sorted and inventoried, and where orders from the food bank's more than 530 network partners (pantries, shelters, schools and other nonprofits) are pulled, staged and assigned to outgoing delivery trucks.

“Because I’ve delivered to every agency, I know every delivery nook and cranny in the state. Having been a driver, it’s definitely easier for me to think outside the box. When we see roadblocks, it's easier to find a way around them,” he says. 

A manager for 18 months, Smiley's big thing is efficiency. He is continually looking for ways to improve processes – less waste equals more money for the mission.

“To know that I’m stretching the donors’ dollars, that’s what drives me,” he says.

He is also driven by tremendous gratitude for a second chance. A decade-long substance abuse problem, he confides, ultimately led to a 2½-year federal prison sentence on meth-related charges. His second day out, he saw a Food Bank for the Heartland “driver wanted” job posting.

“It was meant to be,” he says. “I was blessed to go through some drug and alcohol treatments before I went off to do my time. I learned a lot about how my crimes impacted the community in a negative way. It does feel really good to be on a career path that has allowed me to impact the community in a positive way.”

By all accounts, he is doing an incredible job.

“Tim lives our values of service, respect, urgency and integrity every day. He’s often the first in the building and often the last to leave. Tim is always available on weekends if unexpected service challenges arise. His positive, we-can-do-it attitude is contagious and infects his team and his colleagues,” says Susan Ogborn, president and CEO of Food Bank for the Heartland.  

Smiley is especially energized these days by a Food Bank initiative to procure more fresh produce for the agencies it serves. The nonprofit currently partners with a co-op in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for bulk fruits and vegetables, thanks to a $20,000 Fearless Grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.

“That's huge. Previously, we might only be able to get some potatoes or some onions on order. Now, we’ve got oranges, grapefruit, apples, pears, carrots," Smiley says.

That will translate to more colorful plates – and healthier bodies – this Thanksgiving, Christmas and beyond.

As for those long hours during the holiday season? Smiley shrugs it off, saying he is thankful for the increased giving.

"Nobody would ever want anyone to go hungry on Thanksgiving. The volume increases 30 to 40 percent this time of year,” he says.

“You really get a sense of the impact you’re having when you see 200 to 300 people lined up at one of our mobile pantries with their clothes baskets or coolers. One time, in West Point, Nebraska, this guy came up to me with tears in his eyes. He was hugging me and thanking me. He and his wife had both recently lost their jobs. It’s one of those things that shakes you to your foundation when you realize what you’re doing. I feel blessed.”

He encourages others to be fearless in their pursuit of that feeling.

“If you have a passion for a specific thing – whether it’s people with special needs or hunger in the community or helping prisoners transition back into society – there are all kinds of social service jobs out there. There’s always a need; there’s always someone who needs help,” he says. “If you want to get involved a couple of hours a week, give us a call."

“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same.

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