Serving Compassion: Ohio National Guard Support Critical to Local Food Banks, Communities
Story by Tech. Sgt. Shane Hughes, 178th Wing
CINCINNATI, Ohio (04/03/20)
Like many Americans across the country, Keisha Bryant never expected she would need the services provided by a food bank, but she was recently laid off from work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and her modest savings have been exhausted.
“I spent the last of my money just paying my rent for this month,” Bryant said.
Kurt Reiber, the president of the Freestore Foodbank said this story is becoming more and more common. He spoke with a woman who had been working as a restaurant server and driving for Lyft, a popular ride-sharing service, but lost her jobs due to the pandemic. He said she walked out of the food bank in tears, because she hadn’t known how she was going to feed her three children and the food bank was there to support her in a time of desperate need.
“In the past two weeks, we’ve seen a 35% increase in the number of new families seeking help,” Reiber said. “That’s a significant increase on top of the population we’re already serving.”
But the critical support his organization provides to the local community was also threatened by the pandemic. Reiber said the food bank has more than 13,000 volunteers, many of whom have stopped volunteering due to the self-isolation and social distancing guidelines that have been enacted to slow the spread of the virus, so that health care professionals and hospitals can manage the anticipated surge of COVID-19 cases which are expected to peak sometime later this spring.
All across Ohio, other food banks are facing the same problem. Confronted with an unprecedented problem, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services turned to Gov. Mike DeWine for help, and the governor turned to the Ohio National Guard.
On March 18th, Gov. DeWine signed a proclamation activating approximately 400 Soldiers from the Ohio National Guard’s 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to support 12 regional food banks serving all 88 counties of Ohio. Because of the significant increase in demand on food banks in the past few weeks, the number of Guard personnel on duty is now closer to 500.
“The Ohio National Guard members who’ve been deployed to our food bank have been a godsend,” Reiber said. “They’re filling the void left by our volunteers.”
In the first week, the Soldiers supporting the humanitarian relief effort at the Freestore Foodbank distributed nearly 1 million pounds of food to more than 270,000 residents across 20 counties, double what would normally be distributed in a month.
“We couldn’t support the increased need without the National Guard,” Reiber said.
“A lot of families out here can’t really get out and work and provide for their families ‘cause of the virus,” said Lorenzo Holmes, a local resident. “They need this food to survive.”
In just two weeks, the Ohio National Guard has gone above and beyond the call of duty, delivering more than 30,000 meals, distributing more than 2.5 million pounds of food and driving more than 10,000 miles to help make sure their fellow Ohioans have food on their tables in an extraordinary time of need.
Beyond transporting, packaging, and distributing food to people who’ve been left vulnerable by the COVID-19 pandemic, Soldiers of the Ohio National Guard are providing hope and comfort in a time of significant uncertainty.
“This just gives everybody hope,” said Cierra Foster, a local resident. “I thought we were going to be pretty good, but we ran out of food. The kids were hungry and we needed some help. I was grateful to have that help today.”
“They (Guard members) are very engaged with those customers” Reiber said. “They’re treating them with the dignity and respect any of us would hope to have. The’ve brought compassion to this mission.”