Servant Leadership

Picture of David Weaver at the South Plains Food Bank. David Weaver has been the CEO of the South Plains Food Bank for 27 years.

Growing up in Lubbock and being more interested in theater than cotton, this CEO has had the opportunity to direct his own play – except instead of on a stage – his actors are staff members at the South Plains Food Bank. 

Earning a bachelor’s in sociology and a master’s in theater from Texas Tech University, David Weaver said he has always had a passion for nonprofits. Meeting the director of the South Plains Food Bank in the 90s through affiliation with the Lubbock Community Theater, Weaver said he quickly fell in love when he began doing part-time work at the bank. 

“She asked me to come out to the food bank like 28 years ago and start helping with some basic bookkeeping,” Weaver said. “We were converting from a manual accounting system to an automated system – and I just fell in love with the place.”

Having a specialty in nonprofit management and a heart for volunteering, Weaver soon started working full-time and in 1997, became the executive director of the food bank. 

The Stories

Translating his passion for storytelling from theater into his work, Weaver makes it a priority to tell the stories of the bank’s patrons. 

“We touch 58-60,000 people here and that’s kind of cool to think of,” Weaver said, “but you always remember those are 58-60,000 individual stories.”

For Weaver, the best part about working at the food bank is having the chance to build good relationships and get to know the staff, volunteers and clients.

“It’s really gratifying to just make that connection,” Weaver said, “and to catch up with people and to be a part of their lives at a time when they’re stressed out.”

“We touch 58-60,000 people here and that’s kind of cool to think of, but you always remember those are 58-60,000 individual stories.”

Beyond making a connection with the people at the food bank, Weaver said his success at the bank can be attributed to the staff. 

“I think from my vantage point,” Weaver said, “I see that I’m successful because of so many people behind me. And so when people talk about, ‘Oh, you’ve done a great job’ and things like that, I say, ‘Well, you know, it’s really our staff and our people – we’re all committed.’”

For staff at the South Plains Food Bank, like interim chief operations officer, Jenifer Smith, being committed to her work, she said, is more enjoyable because of Weaver’s philosophy of putting staff first. 

“He kind of has a routine when he comes in every day,” Smith said. “He kind of makes a round and stops in everyone’s office, just kind of checks in; and you may have a 30-second conversation or a 10-minute conversation, just depending, but he’s very personable.” 

David Weaver said he loves going in the warehouse to talk and work with the more than 9,000 volunteers who work at the SPFB throughout the year.

But for others at the food bank, such as chief development officer, Lyn Garcia, Weaver does more than put his staff first. She said the bank is like a family to her, and thanks to Weaver, she was able to realize why she is so dedicated to the bank’s mission. 

“David Weaver, he kept telling me, ‘Why do you feel so connected? You need to think about your story,’” Garcia said. “That’s why I feel like he’s the one that really made me stop and think about really connecting with the organization.” 

Beyond making a personal connection to the bank, Garcia said besides being a great mentor, Weaver always showcases what it means to be a genuine leader. 

“I think that he’s just very genuine about how he feels and how he cares for people and the staff at the food bank,” Garcia said. “He genuinely cares and wants to help them succeed and mentor them – he’s just very genuine.” 

Similar to Garcia, Smith said Weaver has also served as a mentor in her life — teaching her that people are the most important thing.

“Anybody that comes into our food bank for help,” Smith said, “he takes the time to say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ He sees them as people, it’s not just somebody coming in to get food. There’s a story behind every person that walks in the door, so he looks for that story – he wants to know that person.” 

Smith said in addition to Weaver caring about every person that comes into the food bank, he has found the one thing he was drawn to do. 

“I think his personality; I think his educational background; I think the fact that he grew up in this town; all of that really shaped him into really the perfect person to run this food bank,” Smith said.

“I’m sure if you’d ask him when he was in college, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ he would not have said the director of a food bank, but as you go into life and jobs, circumstances lead you down paths and he found his perfect path.” 

Having found his calling, Weaver said he is ready to pass the torch after being at the bank for 27 years, and is excited for the next stage of life. 

The Unexpected

As he prepared for retirement, however, the world had other things in mind. Taking off in March of 2020, news of the coronavirus began to spread. 

“As I learned about the spread of COVID-19,” Weaver said, “I experienced the same range of emotions many of us experienced – moving from disbelief, to fear, to what do we need to do?”

Putting his retirement on hold, Weaver and the staff at the South Plains Food Bank began to converse with other food banks around the state and country to figure out how to proceed. 

They shifted into what Weaver calls “COVID mode” and started serving food to 60% more families. 

Making adjustments to all operations at the food bank, Weaver said they have moved to an online process that allows people at the food bank to receive food through a curb-side pickup or home delivery. Everyone that comes into the food bank has to answer screening questions and have their temperature checked, in addition to wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, and washing their hands frequently. 

While Weaver said he misses the one-on-one contact with the people the food bank serves, he is thankful for the agricultural presence available in the South Plains.

“The United States is blessed with a robust capacity to grow and process many agricultural products,” Weaver said. “For various reasons, there will be kinks in the supply chain as products move from fields to the grocery stores, but I have faith that our food system remains safe and secure.” 

But while food availability remains constant, Weaver anticipates as unemployment rates rise, so will the level of food insecurity. Weaver said the food insecurity rate in Lubbock is around 15% and could increase to more than 20% as the poverty levels increase. 

Despite the rapidly changing environment of the COVID-19 era, Weaver said there continues to be strong support from the Lubbock community for the South Plains Food Bank. 

“I have been amazed by the response of donors as events are unfolding,” Weaver said. “Their generosity has allowed us to respond quickly and to be flexible in that response.”

The South Plains Food Bank, located off of Martin L. King Boulevard in Lubbock, Texas, serves 20 counties in West Texas.

The Future

Grateful for his community and all members of the South Plains Food Bank, Weaver said he would not want to be anywhere else during this time. 

“I enjoy the work that I do and the people – the board, the staff, and the volunteers – that I get to work with every day,” Weaver said. “At a time like this, I can’t think of any other place I would want to be than with them. They are fearless and amazing.” 

Looking ahead, Weaver is excited to see what the future holds and is fortunate for one last curtain call.