Native Dallasite – and former Hillcrest student – Jay Cole has helmed Crossroads Community Services since its inception in 2001, but in March, a new face will steer the ship.
CCS announced Wednesday that Cole would retire on March 15. Benaye Wadkins Rogers, most recently the chief philanthropy officer and We Believe campaign director at St. Philips School & Community Center, was chosen by the nonprofit’s board of directors as only the second executive director for CCS.
In 2001, Cole helped First United Methodist Church, Dallas open Crossroads Community Services, where he has served as executive director since 2003.
The native Dallasite attended Hillcrest High School and received his Bachelor of Arts with an economics major and a math minor from the University of Texas, Austin. Cole later earned a Master of Divinity degree and Certificate of Specialization in Urban Ministry from Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. In 2000, he was the recipient of the B’nai B’rith Award for academic excellence in ethical studies and social justice work in southern Dallas. Cole was the Associate Minister of Urban Ministry at FUMC for 15 years before leading Crossroads through their transition to an independent 501(c)(3) corporation in 2015.
In 2005 under Cole’s leadership, Crossroads created the first computerized system in the U.S. to help clients select the appropriate amount and kinds of food based upon each household member’s age, gender, and activity level — following the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This system provided the foundation for more equitable nutritious food distribution.
“If you spend any time with Jay Cole, at some point you will hear him say, ‘excuse me, I’m not being a good communicator,'” said longtime CCS board member Lauren Weedon. “This ‘Jay-ism’ is a wonderful example of how he approaches his work at Crossroads. He seeks to understand and then, with that clarity of understanding, address what he sees.
“That sort of wide lens perspective has driven his ceaseless efforts in innovation, research and the delivery of healthy food to our clients.”
In 2006, Crossroads pioneered a new hub-and-spoke model of food distribution to low-income neighbors. Crossroads engaged churches, community centers, Dallas Housing Authority multi-family housing units, and other nonprofits that wanted to regularly feed people in their neighborhoods by providing substantial amounts of nutritious groceries but did not want to become full-fledged North Texas Food Bank (NTFB) agencies. Community Distribution Partners (CDP) enroll as many as 1,000 individuals to as few as 20 who come at their scheduled time each month. Each CDP picks up food in bulk from Crossroads and distributes it the same day—efficient, effective and more respectful of peoples’ time. Crossroads became an official NTFB Hub in 2011.
Crossroads research partners include Dr. Sandi Pruitt at UTSW Medical Center, and Dr. Tammy Leonard, department chair and behavioral economist at the University of Dallas. Their latest research project is concluding this year — a randomized control study to improve programming to enable clients to better coordinate food pantry and SNAP food assistance benefits.
Cole was instrumental in facilitating the data collection that has demonstrated the extent to which clients have difficulty coordinating these two different types of food assistance. Preliminary data showed that people who visited Crossroads’ pantry (or partner pantries) prior to exhausting SNAP benefits self-reported 32% fewer bad health outcomes compared to those who utilized the two forms of assistance independently to cover food needs at different times of the month.
Crossroads is also the lead partner on a three-year national grant with Parkland, UTSW, and Dallas County Health and Human Services; the goal is to develop a sustainable inter-organizational referral system that includes co-locating food provision and health services.
“For over 18 years, Jay Cole led Crossroads as a faithful servant leader,” said Camille Grimes, Dallas Morning News charities executive director. “All along the way, he has offered compassion and hope that instills dignity in those served. Under his leadership, many vital collaborations have been achieved such as Crossroads becoming the first Hub and Spoke with the North Texas Food Bank and joining forces with several universities to collect data in order to better personalize client nutritional needs. Jay is leaving behind a robust legacy and a solid future for Crossroads.”
In 2019, the North Texas Food Bank invited Crossroads to move into their 72,000 square foot distribution facility located at 4500 South Cockrell Hill Road, in the southern sector of Dallas County and added Ellis and Navarro counties to Crossroads’ service area. That year, working with 100 CDPs, Crossroads distributed 5.5 million pounds of food to 27,000 individuals —doubling the amount distributed in 2018.
In 2020, working with 150 dedicated CDPs in the midst of COVID-19, 84,000 individuals benefited from 11.8 million pounds of groceries — enough food to prepare approximately 10 million wholesome meals. This much food also provided an important economic benefit — the groceries saved clients roughly $24,000,00 that can instead be used to pay their rent and utilities.