AP NEWS

Expansion plans announced for Southeast Texas Food Bank

March 20, 2019

The Southeast Texas Food Bank on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to build a new facility behind its current location on South Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Executive director Dan Maher said the plans, still in the design phase, had not been given final approval by the board of directors. The new facility could include meeting places for volunteer groups and fundraisers along with improved storage facilities.

“A lot of our volunteers come in groups or are from businesses, but there isn’t anywhere for them to interact together right now,” Maher said. “We think this will help with our community outreach and our ability to earn revenue.”

The food bank did not say how much the building might cost. Final design and construction would require fundraising.

The new building would take over acres of greenspace and a storage building on the north end of the food bank’s property currently being rented by Lamar University. The food bank bought the land from Lamar last June after receiving national grants from Feeding America in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey.

“It’s been a good partnership between one of our neighbors here, and we’re grateful for the relationship with Lamar” and its president, Kenneth Evans, Maher said.

The food bank occupies a former industrial bakery site and a nearby warehouse purchased soon after Tropical Storm Harvey.

The new facility would feature up to eight loading bays at its dock, compared to the two bays currently, an upgrade that Maher said would greatly improve efficiency. The Southeast Texas Food Bank serves an eight-county territory of more than 600,000 people and relies on partnerships with local retailers and volunteers.

The proposed expansion was among the topics Maher covered with Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, during a tour of the facility on Tuesday.

Weber also discussed the importance of monitoring nutritional-benefit programs for fraud while making sure places like the Southeast Texas Food Bank are still able to serve their populations.

“You want to make sure help goes to the ones who need it, and that means a system that makes sure the people who need it most are recognized,” Weber said. “That’s why I love that this a local program with community members and volunteers that serving their neighbors.”

The U.S. Farm Bill, an omnibus set of programs and legislative directives set every five years, largely controls not only what kind of benefits individuals can expect from programs like SNAP, but also what resources are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food banks.

Nearly 1 in 4 Jefferson County residents — and 27 percent of its children — are considered to have a food need.

Maher said the food bank works with benefits offices to make sure its clients who are eligible for programs sign up, reducing some of the burden the food bank has in feeding its population. It also uses USDA programs to help supply food to seniors who might not be able to receive assistance elsewhere.

An earlier proposed version of the Farm Bill would have set work requirements for SNAP and made some cuts to nutritional benefits programs. The final version did not include work requirements and greatly scaled back some of the proposed funding cuts.

“I’m grateful he came to hear us out and so what we are doing,” Maher said. “We want to be the voice for the underprivileged and the underserved that are so often left voiceless.”

jacob.dick@beaumontenterprise.com

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