The 2019-2020 Large Business of the Year went to the East Texas Food Bank during Thursday's Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards meeting.

Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Board Chair June Cheatham said, "The East Texas Food Bank works to provide food and hunger relief programs to 26 counties in East Texas. This is accomplished through a variety of programs as well as a network of partner agencies which distribute food directly to those in need."

Cheatham explained before the pandemic, one-in-five East Texans, including one-in-four children, were facing hunger. The numbers increased, but the East Texas Food Bank adjusted operations to safely meet increased needs.

"We never thought East Texas Food Bank would be considered or could win an award like business of the year. We do operate like a business, but we have the heart of a nonprofit," Dennis Cullinane, CEO of the East Texas Food Bank, said. "When the pandemic hit, we had a crisis before the crisis. We are one of 200 food banks affiliated with Feed America and part of a network of 21 food banks as part of Feeding Texas. We always kept a couple truck loads of food handy in case of an emergency. But we emptied the warehouse. This is your award, this goes to the community and that's what the East Texas Food Bank stands for. This is probably the greatest honor we've ever received."

Cullinane thanked the food bank board and the food bank's 53 employees (and mentioned they are growing and expanding into Lufkin). He also thanked Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran for helping to work with the state to get the National Guard to Tyler in just three days, stepping in when there was a lack of volunteers because of COVID-19. He thanked the city of Tyler for allowing the use of Harvey Hall to distribute the food boxes.

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John is a two-time national columnist of the year. He has earned top AP awards for news, videos and sports writing and won the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award. He has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX News and CNN.

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