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Southeast Texas Food Bank temporarily closing because of COVID-19

The Southeast Texas Food Bank’s board and management decided — through consultation with the Beaumont Health Department, Feeding America and Feeding Texas — to temporarily pause operations.

Continued COVID-19 screening testing for employees at the Southeast Texas Food Bank this week resulted in two more positive test results from the initial rapid testing conducted, bringing the number of identified staff active cases to seven.

Among the newly identified cases is Food Bank President/CEO Dan Maher, who received positive test results on Friday.

Neither of the newly identified cases are among staff who have worked extensively with volunteers in recent days, but Food Bank management and its Board of Directors highlight the additional cases in an abundance of caution for public safety and awareness.

These cases are having a negative impact on the Food Bank’s ability to maintain key staffing roles, while assuring staff and public safety.

The Food Bank will not be open to the public until Sept. 21 but will work with the Houston Food Bank to have that food bank fulfill previously scheduled Hurricane Laura disaster distributions that may occur during this period of closure.

“In attempts to protect the health and safety of food bank staff, partner agencies, and volunteers, affected Food Bank staff has been following the protocols prescribed within the Center for Disease Control’s prevention guidelines by self-isolating and quarantining after test results come back positive,” said Food Bank Board Chair Jeff Oliverio.

“Unfortunately, in spite of those practices and strong efforts to consistently reinforce and practice the use of face coverings and social distancing, as well as hand washing and sanitizing among staff and volunteers, we continue to see staff members testing positive when being re-tested to verify they are healthy enough to be at work. As a result, regrettable though it is to have to make this decision against the backdrop of our community’s reliance on the Food Bank as we face the impacts of Hurricane Laura and the pandemic, Food Bank leadership has concluded public safety necessitates this pause in operation to try to reduce the virus’ propagation.”

Oliverio added that beyond its standard COVID-19 sanitizing practices, the Food Bank has frequently used commercial grade sanitizing spray throughout the facility since the first positive test result was received last week, including the use of a professional cleaning service to fully clean the Food Bank’s warehouse and office facilities on Thursday night.

“Throughout the impact period of the pandemic, Southeast Texas Food Bank has adopted and implemented various sanitation steps and altered safety processes that had preserved it from having a single known case until last week,” said Oliverio.

“We are fortunate not to have serious effects among any of the affected staff to-date. Now as several staff focus on recovery, our food bank’s highly capable leadership team and staff will hit the reset button during this pause in activity and, supported by myself and with the full support of the board and partner entities like Feeding America and Feeding Texas, aim to resume our vital scale of operations within the timeline we have identified. Also, as has been said previously, since COVID-19 is not a food borne disease, the food products distributed by the Food Bank remain consistently safe for public consumption and we look forward to resuming our distribution of food when staffing conditions can once again fully support it.”