FAIRBORN, Ohio – Hundreds of cars snaked through the parking lot outside Wright State University’s Nutter Center, spilling onto the main road for as far as the eye could see. People shouted, “Thank you for your service,” from their cars as Ohio National Guard Soldiers loaded people’s trunks with a month’s worth of watermelon, cabbage, onions, eggs, rice and other food.They were lined up for assistance during a food distribution event sponsored by The Foodbank Inc. based in Dayton. For many of the families receiving food, this was their first time seeking help from a food bank. As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches from weeks into months, more people have found themselves furloughed without any source of income, in dire need of food assistance.“We’ve been trying to rely on family and make everything last as long as possible, but it only goes so far,” said Kelly Miller, who was laid off in March.“I’m out of work and I haven’t been able to get unemployment yet,” said Courtney Wilson. “If it wasn’t for this food drive, I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills, because I’d have to spend that money on food.”“I’m using this to fill a gap,” said Carrie Minton, who was furloughed from her job at a health care company. “Having this food is helpful because then I can save the money I have available to make sure my rent and utilities are paid until I can get back to work.”Minton said her teenage daughter is the only one in her family still earning an income because she’s considered an essential employee at a drug store.The economic hardships of many families have been compounded by the lack of affordable food options due to panic buying and hoarding.“This is going to help us spend less on our food bill,” said Christopher Erb, a Dayton resident and father of four. “We’ve already been spending more on food because you can’t find any of the cheap brands anymore. They’ve all gone missing.”Others had resorted to rationing their food.“Before this, I was only eating one meal a day,” said Mary Owens, a retiree whose only income comes from Social Security. “I can’t even begin to say how much this means to me.”It was this consistently increasing need in the community that led The Foodbank to hold the mass food distribution event for residents in the tri-county area, encompassing Montgomery, Greene and Preble counties, that it primarily serves.“We’re responding to the pandemic by holding additional food distributions in our communities to make up for the lack of available food,” said Lee Lauren Truesdale, chief development officer for The Foodbank Inc.The Foodbank usually holds three mass food distribution events per year, requiring approximately 150 volunteers and 30 staff members for each event. However, the pandemic has drastically reduced the number of staff and volunteers available while increasing demand for food.“We saw double what we would normally see at a regular distribution (event), with nowhere near the staffing support we would typically have,” Truesdale said.Gov. Mike DeWine turned to the Ohio National Guard. On March 18, he activated approximately 400 Soldiers from the Ohio National Guard’s 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to support 12 regional food banks and warehouses that serve residents in all 88 Ohio counties. Because of the significant increase in demand for food, support has grown to more than 500 Guard and Ohio Military Reserve members helping at 14 local and regional food banks.Nearly 30 members of the 37th IBCT were on hand to help with the food distribution effort at Wright State.“This is why I joined the National Guard,” said Sgt. Andrew Lynch, platoon sergeant with Company E, 237th Support Battalion in nearby Springfield. “I wanted to serve my community here at home, and things like this make me proud to put this uniform on every day. It’s been really rewarding.”Cpl. Harold Owens, a vehicle operator assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 837th Engineer Battalion, also in Springfield, agreed.“I feel like I’m making a difference,” Owens said. “I don’t want to see anyone struggle and it means a lot to me that I was able to volunteer for this mission and help people get through this.”All morning, Soldiers laughed and joked with families, providing a sense of normalcy at a time of uncertainty. One Soldier shared knock-knock jokes with children in one car as it moved slowly down the line.“The governor and the National Guard have done so much to help us out.” Wilson said. “Between the tornadoes last year (which hit Dayton and other western Ohio communities) and now this, the National Guard has really stepped in to help us a lot.”Truesdale said more than 1,300 households with more than 4,500 people were served during the single event, providing food security for people in a time a desperate need.“There’s no way we could have done this without the National Guard,” Truesdale said.Whether distributing food to those in need or sharing laughter with people in a time of uncertainty, the men and women of the Ohio National Guard are stepping up to help their communities any way they can.For more National Guard news: http://www.nationalguard.mil/National Guard Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNationalGuard/National Guard Twitter: https://twitter.com/usnationalguardHow the National Guard is helping: https://www.nationalguard.mil/coronavirus/Photos of the National Guard response: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/albums/72157713483827538Latest 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/