Flathead Food Bank has been closed since Sept. 14 due to a staff member testing positive for COVID-19 but will reopen on Tuesday, Sept. 22 following negative test results for other employees.
Jamie Quinn, executive director of the food bank, said she decided to shut down operations after the staff member received test result confirmation from the health department on the morning of Sept. 14. Volunteers and employees were sent home, and customers were informed.
Workers who had contact with the employee then got tested, with the negative results coming back yesterday. Quinn said it’s an isolated case and that the office staff member didn’t handle food.
“We want to be clear with customers that nobody is at risk,” Quinn said.
Despite the test results clearing other employees, health department guidelines call for quarantining contacts from the last date of potential exposure, which was Sept. 7. Following the 14-day quarantine period, the food bank will reopen with regular hours on Sept. 22, with senior times (ages 60 and over) from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and general community hours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The food bank posted notification of the closure on social media along with information for other regional food banks in Whitefish, Bigfork, Columbia Falls and Lakeside. Quinn said other food banks have reported serving Kalispell customers during the closure.
But Quinn added that the food bank has loosened its usual per-household quota restrictions during the pandemic, enabled by federal agriculture and food financial relief, which means many households were stocked sufficiently enough to withstand the temporary closure.
“Our whole goal from the start of this was to make sure we really frontloaded the community with food,” Quinn said. “We knew it was one of those inevitables, unfortunately, that someone would come in contact at some point.”
Food banks locally and nationwide have experienced surges in customers as unemployment and food insecurity have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Pantries have utilized a variety of resources, including federal relief, to better meet the increase in demand.
Flathead Food Bank typically distributes 1.5 million pounds of food in a calendar year. Since March 16, it has distributed 2.5 million pounds.
“By the end of they year, we’ll easily more than double what we usually do,” Quinn said.
Quinn said her crew is eager to return.
“We’re happy to be get back to our jobs of feeding the community,” she said.
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