CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – With many people unable to work, buying even basics like food is becoming a challenge. At the same time, volunteers who are relied on to operate local food banks are staying home.
“The Washington National Guard will provide important help to our communities to ensure our critical food banks remain stocked and operational,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a tweet. “They’re filling an important need, and I ask that you welcome them in your communities as they process, package and distribute meals.”
More than 130 Washington Air and Army National Guard members from the 194th Wing and 81st Brigade Combat Team jumped at the chance to help their neighbors in Chelan, Franklin, King, Pierce and Walla Walla counties.
“These Guardsmen will provide critical support to our food banks and pantries that are low on staff and need help getting food to some of our most vulnerable citizens,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general. “By looking out for our neighbors and following proper health safety guidelines, we will get through this together.”
The food banks are in areas that often support neighboring towns. The Chelan County operations, conducted from an arena used for concerts and sporting events, now distributes meals for families in the greater Wenatchee area and to the towns of Leavenworth, Bridgeport, Mansfield and Waterville. The Issaquah food bank in King County serves Issaquah and the entire east side of King County.
“We are supporting the neighborhoods of Duvall, Carnation, Maytown, Hobart and North Bend, but we won’t turn anyone away that needs a meal,” said Lisa Haynes, volunteer coordinator.
At the Issaquah location, Guard members are unloading deliveries, processing food, repackaging and staging for distribution each 44-pound box to families that come through.
“This is a huge help,” said Haynes. “We are starting a new process and we just don’t know how many people are really in need right now, but we are grateful to have the Guard here supporting us. We are also blessed to have the support of so many grocers and companies.”
At a food bank in the community of Edgewood, Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Amber Barker is ready to support the community.
“I live just down the road, and this is my first chance to help the community so I was glad to volunteer,” said Barker.
Kate Wright, executive director at the Edgewood food bank, said the support is critical because many of the staff are listed as high-risk if they catch the virus.
“I am not supposed to be here,” said Wright. “I could be high risk, so having the Guard here is so helpful. We are helping to feed more than 400 families a week now, almost double what we were at before the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Guard members will soon begin supporting another eight food banks, with more requests expected.