BEAUMONT, Texas — As coronavirus concerns continue to take a toll on our local businesses and grocery stores, the Southeast Texas Food Bank is working to address growing needs.
The food bank has overcome a variety of obstacles in the past. Now they’re saying this health crisis is a challenge they have never experienced before.
"Our experience working with hurricanes and things of that nature will really be tested,” said Executive Director Dan Maher. “We recognize that the limitations on us, in terms of food supplies that may flow in as well as volunteers that may be available to us, are all going to impact our operations."
Maher is the executive director of the Southeast Texas Food Bank.
He says the food bank is currently in the preliminary stages of planning on how to overcome any new obstacles coronavirus might throw their way.
“We're confident that we'll come up with a good, comprehensive plan for our community as best we can based on the information and the data as it's flowing currently,” Maher said
Maher said he's expecting the food bank to be tested in terms of food supply and volunteers in the coming weeks or even months.
“We’re going to need to keep these shelves stocked in a way that is going to address a broader sweep of the community than we are ordinarily responsible for serving,” Maher said.
- LIST: Southeast Texas school districts extend closures amid coronavirus concerns
- Meal options for Southeast Texas school students during closures
The food bank relies on outside sources for their food supply. So, when local grocery stores run low on supplies, so does the food bank.
“Just as those retailers have been penetrated and are running out of food, our supplies will be gone through very rapidly,” Maher said.
He said they're doing their best to find resources outside the community, but it's going to take donations. Once the bank has them, the challenge becomes having the resources to process and distribute the supplies.
With the CDC’s recommendation to avoid groups of more than 50 people, Maher says it will be difficult to maintain.
"We are soliciting impactful support for food donations but especially financial donations and personnel time donations from volunteerism," Maher said.
One of their main priorities will be the senior population in Southeast Texas.
“Because vulnerability of that population, we’re going to be putting together boxes of food as best we can for the general population but with a certain priority to making sure that seniors get served,” Maher said.
- Louisiana casinos will close for two weeks due to coronavirus, Harrah's says
- This coronavirus map shows all reported cases in the world
They're also working with the schools to maintain the backpack program. Maher says they're in an ongoing dialogue with the districts as they formulate their plans to continue feeding students.
"We’ve always served on a rather limited population basis anyhow, so our volume of food providing in that manner is going to be somewhat limited until we can get more supplies and get more backpacks assembled through volunteers. So, we really have to just think of ourselves as preparing for the long-haul as a community and be patient with the process," Maher said.
Maher anticipates a greater need for snap enrollments within the community as more people are quarantined and potentially laid off from work.
"That could be magnified significantly as more people become eligible in a disaster circumstance to enroll for food stamps, so we have an important role to potentially play in that food access for a community,” Maher said.
Maher says food stamps are apart of a federal program, that requires an application and economic eligibility.
They're waiting to see what, if any eligibility requirements will be loosened because of the disaster.
"Once we get guidance on that from the federal government, if we’re allowed to do more enrollment operations as best we can, but we will, certainly do our best to maintain the ordinary daily operations for those who are economically eligible," Maher said.
If you'd like to make a donation or volunteer your time, click here for more information.