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Things are starting to return to normal for the Greater Baton Rouge Area Food Bank. Like thousands of Baton Rouge residents, the food bank has spent the last month gutting and cleaning. After all that hard work, the organization was given the green light to return to its warehouse.
"Despite the operational challenges caused by the flooding, we have remained focused on fulfilling our mission - collecting and distributing food to neighborhoods in need within just a few days of the flood," said Michael G. Manning, president and CEO of the food bank. "Being able to move back into our warehouse facility on an expedited timeline will allow us to operate with much greater scale to help these families as soon as possible."
For weeks, the food bank had caution tape at the entrance and millions of dollars worth of ruined food in its warehouse after taking on about four feet of water.
The state's Department of Health has cleared the facility and staff members were in the midst of moving items back into their warehouse Wednesday.
"We don't have any offices and we don't have the position for volunteers, but at least we can use the facility for the freezer cooler and the warehouse racks which will allow us to start the process of coming home," Manning said.
Manning said cleanup has been quite the task as crews have been working around the clock to get the warehouse back operational. The price tag so far for the effort is roughly $2 million.
"With the cleanup, the rehabilitation of equipment, we had to get transformers and get some air conditioning work done and go through and check everything out before we could come back in," Manning added.
"We understand many of our neighbors now find themselves in need of food assistance for the first time in their lives, as they face stretched incomes in repairing flooded homes," Manning said.
Thankfully, the community and the nation has responded with donations to help the food bank. Since the middle of August, more than 1 million pounds of food have been distributed. All of that was distributed from a temporary facility.
Food bank officials said they have had "unexpected challenges" in distributing food while using the temporary facilities that have limited square footage. As the food bank returns back to its main warehouse and resume operations, the organization will work to consolidate the two temporary warehouses.
Manning said the past month has been a test but it is one he is confident they will bounce back from better than ever.
"You can punch us and you can knock us down but you're not going to knock us out," Manning added. "It's all in how you respond to that punch and that you keep moving forward and that's what we're doing. We're moving forward to feed as many people as we can."
For more information about the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and ways to support our mission, visit brfoodbank.org.