WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – On the brisk morning of May 9, a long line of cars stretched down the street from the Second Harvest Food Bank Northwest. Behind masked faces, hopeful eyes peered out over their steering wheels.
North Carolina Army National Guard Soldiers of the 1452nd HET Transportation Company walked with clipboards in hand and a determined stride, ready to help their community.
As the Soldiers came to a halt at the driver’s window of each car, they asked a series of questions about how much food was needed. While serving a diverse community, these NCARNG Soldiers were able to communicate in each citizens’ native language – particularly Spanish.
COVID-19 has left many families struggling to afford basic necessities. Members of the NCNG have stepped up during a time of need by using their dual capabilities as Citizen-Soldiers to provide help that goes beyond their normal duties.
“It’s our job as Citizen-Soldiers to help out the people of our areas,” said Sgt. Timothy Spence, assigned to the 1452nd. “I believe it is important for Soldiers to answer the call ... because we are also people who live in these communities.”
Members of the 1452nd were among 940 members of the NCNG who put aside their civilian jobs to help the community in any way possible.
“As members of the 1452nd, we are naturally 88 Mikes, truck drivers, so we do not interpret normally, but since we are Citizen-Soldiers, we are able to speak to these people in ways that other people can’t,” Spence said.
These Soldiers, although not recognized as trained interpreters, used their bilingual abilities and volunteered to help their community.
“Our community is incredibly diverse, so during these food bank distributions we do have a large number of individuals who are Spanish-speaking,” said Eric Aft, CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. “For us at the food bank, we do not have many Spanish-speaking staff members ... but having the Soldiers be able to bridge that gap is really critical.
“It can be scary for people to ask for assistance, especially when you don’t speak the same language, and therefore, being able to have someone communicate with you in your native language provides a lot of comfort,” he said. “These Soldiers are a part of making that happen.”
Members of the 1452nd have witnessed the effects of COVID-19.
“I have personally dealt with people out of jobs,” Spence said. “My mother is out of a job right now. She’s not able to pay for the bills that are usually accustomed to our lifestyle. Therefore, I feel better that I’m able to help out people in my city ... so they can be able to eat and be able to survive this unprecedented situation.”
Sgt. Adela Gomez of the 1452nd recalled an emotional encounter with some of the families seeking help at the food bank. She was able to use her bilingual abilities to speak and connect with fellow citizens in need.
“You see some of them crying and you get emotional, but it’s a good feeling to be helping out,” Gomez said. “I’m just thankful that I got the opportunity to come out here and help, not just Hispanics but everyone in general.”
The NCNG, working with North Carolina Emergency Management, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and food banks, has helped distribute about 1 million meals and more than 73,000 school lunches across the state.
“To be a Citizen-Soldier, it means a lot because ... it brings great honor to our families and to the communities here,” Gomez said.
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