HERKIMER, N.Y. -- Ten Soldiers from the New York Army National Guard volunteered to go to Herkimer County (New York) Community College to help distribute milk and fresh produce to county residents, Aug. 26, 2020.
Recruiters who support the Herkimer region shifted their focus from recruiting new Soldiers to supporting their community as a result of COVID-19 and the hardships it has brought.
County legislators were able to arrange 1,200 boxes of milk and 1,200 boxes of produce donated by the American Dairy Association North East and local farmers associations to hand out to community members in need.
"As COVID-19 has made recruiting events scarce, my team has really focused on supporting community service functions to stay in contact with our local populations and maintain a positive and visible presence," Army Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Girard, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the recruiting team, said.
According to Girard, this is the third time dairy and produce has been distributed in the county with the Guard taking part in the most recent two. More than 1,000 families have come through the three distribution events, she added.
"This isn't a mission that was assigned to the Army National Guard," Girard said. "This is a mission a local recruiting team volunteered for, to show up when people need help."
The roads leading to the college were lined with vehicles well before the 11 a.m. scheduled start time. Police and guardsmen along the way to directed residents where to go.
"It's just simply the right thing to do, helping out our communities," Army Sgt. Steven Ludwig, a recruiting and retention noncommissioned officer for Herkimer County, said.
Ludwig said that by the end of the four hours the distribution site was open, 500 gallons of milk and 15,000 pounds of produce were handed out to families. They would pull up in their vehicles, and volunteers would place the items in their trunk, ensuring contactless distribution.
"As far as we know, this will go on till around October," Ludwig said. "The location will change, but as long as it's anywhere in our area, our recruiting team will come out to help."
"I want to thank the National Guard from the bottom of my heart," Robert Schrader, the Herkimer County District 3 legislator, said. "I look forward to working with the National Guard each time I have one of these events. It shows people that the military is here to help and that's the biggest thing."
For the recruiters, helping to hand out food reminded them of why they joined the Guard.
"This is absolutely why I joined the National Guard as opposed to active duty or any other branch," Ludwig said.
"When I volunteered at this event... it reminded me how good people actually are," Girard said. "It was heartwarming. It reminded me while I love this job."