Kentucky Guard helps food banks continue serving the needy
Specialists Nikolas Beckum and Shawn Braden take food out to a local resident at Be Concerned food pantry in Covington, Ky., as the Guard ramped up its involvement for the COVID-19 response Apr. 7, 2020. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane) VIEW ORIGINAL

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. – More than 100 members of the Kentucky National Guard have stepped up to help area food banks continue serving people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what a lifesaver 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.”

Sizemore said about 174,500 people in the food bank’s service area are “food-insecure.” But that has increased 30 percent during the health crisis at the same time that volunteers have to stay home.

“We’re seeing at least double the work that we were ‘BC,’ as I like to call it (before COVID-19),” said Monica Ruehling, FAKH development director.

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 is one of many responsible for helping feed Kentuckians who have found themselves out of work or school due to the coronavirus. 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 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 an emergency mobile food pantry. It’s a quick way for our agencies to get food distributed out to those people in their area.”

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.

The Soldiers 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.”

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 10 minutes or so with more food.

“Morale is definitely good right now,” said Mitchell. “We know this is an important mission, and even though it can get monotonous at times, we do what we can to 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.”

The Guard’s work is having a considerable 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.”

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How the National Guard is helping: https://www.nationalguard.mil/coronavirus/

Photos of the National Guard response: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/albums/72157713483827538

Latest from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/

U.S. response: https://www.coronavirus.gov/

White House-CDC response: https://www.coronavirus.gov/