NAPA, Calif. – Yellow traffic cones are placed on a street adjacent to The Napa Storehouse as Soldiers with the California Army National Guard guide vehicles to pop-up tents covering boxes and bags of food.
Cars and trucks make their way through four pickup stations set up to offer Napa Valley residents contactless food distribution as the area deals with the loss of tourism dollars and widespread economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Called up by Gov. Gavin Newsom to perform humanitarian missions throughout the state, service members with the California National Guard’s Joint Task Force 115 are distributing food at The Napa Storehouse, one of seven Napa Valley Food Bank distribution locations run by Community Action of Napa Valley.
As the community’s need for grocery items increases tenfold, food pantries are adapting to meet demand.
“Before the pandemic began, we were serving about 30 families a day inside the food bank,” said Taima Broadhead, a program coordinator with Napa Valley Food Bank. “Now we are serving at least 300 families a day, so that’s a pretty big jump.”
The Napa Valley area is hard hit by economic changes due to the coronavirus pandemic travel ban and stay-at-home order. Essential businesses are open, but in an area that caters to tourism, many businesses are closed.
Residents find themselves waiting it out, but some are low on food and other resources.
“The need for these services has increased dramatically,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Gregg Hierholzer, a motor transport operator with the Cal Guard’s 1113th Transportation Company, as he packs and distributes food. “Everyone is in the same boat. Even people who felt like they had enough money before are finding themselves falling on hard times.”
Hierholzer is part of a group of Cal Guard Soldiers from various units under the 749th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion working in Napa to assist civilian volunteers with food distribution to area residents.
“We have National Guardsmen packing allotment boxes and produce bags at our warehouse and then those are being dropped off here for us to distribute,” Broadhead said. “We also have National Guardsmen helping us to distribute those boxes. They are hauling things out of my fridge and freezer, setting up the stations here, and then they are serving our clients by packing their cars for them.”
The Cal Guard began assisting food banks in 18 counties across the state in March and has distributed over 30 million meals.
“Each family is getting about 75 pounds of goods as they come through each time,” said Broadhead.
“With the National Guard, I can confidently say that we can serve 300 [families] a day without issue. They’ve been working so hard and it’s really given us the confidence to say that we can definitely support the community in this way right now.”