Charity groups plan to keep holiday meals safe from San Diego hepatitis A outbreak

Meals for homeless get extra safety precautions
Posted at 5:52 AM, Oct 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-23 13:01:07-04

Groups like the Salvation Army that put on large holiday meals for the homeless have made some subtle changes to their meals this year, to keep them safe from the hepatitis A outbreak.

"The safety of our guests and volunteers is our top concern," says Captain Sean Halsey with the Salvation Army.

Each year, the Salvation Army serves 1,500-2,000 people at Golden Hall on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They've been talking about adding hand washing stations, hand sanitizers and wet wipes to the holiday meal, to make sure everyone is safe.

It's especially important, he says, because his group encourages close contact between the volunteers and the homeless people they serve. They have volunteers take each person by the hand or arm and walk them to their seat before the meal.

"It's important because it emphasizes the humanity and respect," he says. "We don't plan to change that."

They've also sent information about the disease to every volunteer that's signed up. That includes a recommendation to be vaccinated. But the Salvation Army isn't going to require it.

"For the last year we've been having free vaccinations at our facilities across SD County making sure people get vaccinated. That's the best thing people can do," says Halsey.

Father Joe's Villages feels the same way. They offer vaccinations four times a week at their complex downtown, and volunteers are welcome to take advantage of it.

They've made subtle changes to the way they do meals as well. They've moved things like salt and pepper shakers off the tables and soda distribution to the kitchen.

"We just want to cut down on the number of hands that touch those things," says Chief Development Officer Bill Bolstad.

The Salvation Army also has food safety protocols already in place. All the food is cooked off site and sealed until it's served. Volunteers take the food from the kitchen to the guests, so the only food they touch is their own.

"We've been doing this for years," says Captain Kelsey. "Each year we get better and better at protecting the people who come to eat and our volunteers."

For more information on how to volunteer for the Salvation Army, click here.

For the latest from the San Diego County Department of Health on the Hepatitis A Outbreak, click here.