NEWS | April 23, 2020

Local Food Banks able to continue services with Guards help

By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Since the Governor’s stay at home order was issued almost six weeks ago, life as we knew it started to change dramatically.

Schools shut down, stores were overrun by panic buyers, and left the most vulnerable citizens severely impacted by the Coronavirus.

One of the agencies that has been affected and has seen an increased need for help has been local area food banks. Due to the age of their regular volunteer base at Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland (FAKH) food bank, the need for helping hands was great.

That’s where over 100 Kentucky National Guardsmen have stepped up and filled the gap.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what a life saver the Kentucky National Guard has been for us,” said Jamie Sizemore, FAKH Executive Director. “We could not keep up with the need until they got here because the majority of our volunteer base was over 60 years old or school groups.”

The typical number of food insecure people in FAKH’s service area is about 174,500 people, according to Sizemore.

According to their development director, the food bank has seen a 30 percent increase in the amount of families who need their services.

“We’re seeing at least double the work that we were (earlier in the year) ‘BC’ as I like to call it (Before COVID-19),” said Monica Ruehling, FAKH Development Director.

So double the workload for 100 percent less volunteers creates quite the vacuum.
But that is where the National Guard was able to help.

The Soldiers with the 2061st Multi-Role Bridge Company and 1123rd Sappers working at the FAKH warehouse in Elizabethtown packed 19,486 emergency food boxes, 12,988 Senior Boxes, and 20,219 Backpack bags just in the first two weeks they were on site.

The regional food bank in Elizabethtown joins many others responsible for aiding in the effort to feed the many Kentuckians in all of the counties that have found themselves out of work and their kids out of school. For some of those children, school is the only place to get enough food to eat.
“These boxes and bags of food are going to 42 counties right here in Kentucky,” said Ruehling. “We’re reaching and impacting that many people.”

FAKH works with partner agencies to distribute the senior boxes every month to seniors who qualify by income, and Backpack program bags of food to school age children who may be food insecure at home. But for their emergency food services, they do the mobilization themselves.

“We are going out to counties that are in need, where we know there isn’t enough food getting into that county,” said Sizemore. “That’s when we establish a emergency mobile food pantry. It’s a quick way for our agencies to get food distributed out to those people in their area.”

The administration requested help from the Governor by the way of the National Guard, which was approved quickly and allowed the Soldiers to get started right away. Having the same Soldiers come in every day has helped the food bank know who was going to be handling the food, and was a better option than to keep trying to find volunteers daily, and then screening and monitoring for COVID symptoms.

For the Soldiers involved, they were glad to have a chance to get out and do something positive for their communities.

“We’ve been here for three weeks now and we are scheduled to be here for another week,” said 2nd Lt. Katie Mitchell, Platoon leader, 2061st MRBC. “It’s been a straightforward mission, and we have hit our rhythm so everything is efficient and running really smoothly.”

Smiles abounded as the Soldiers quickly made up boxes and filled them with perishable foods, kept close by on pallets. The Soldiers kept up with the pace until the stock had to be replaced every ten minutes or so with more food.

“Morale is definitely good right now,” added Mitchell. “We know this is an important mission, and even though it can get monotonous at times, we do what we can do have fun with it. They have races sometimes to see who can put food in the boxes the fastest so they’re really enjoying themselves.”

With the work being done by the Guard, they are leaving a huge impact on the state.

“Overall, the entire nation has seen how resilient Feeding America is and their 200 food banks in the network,” said Sizemore. “We cover every single county in the United States and Puerto Rico. We can move resources fast and we can respond to a crisis, and it has just shown how strong our network is. With the support from the Kentucky National Guard, what we’re doing would not be possible, we could not do the volume we’re doing right now.”

Both Sizemore and Ruehling encourage people to give monetary donations to food banks, such as Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland instead of buying food from the grocery yourself and donating food items. The agency is able to buy nine pounds of food for every dollar that they spend.

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