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Oklahoma National Guard Airmen support food bank

Staff Sgt. Nathan McElrath, a member of the 138th Fighter Wing, Oklahoma National Guard, loads food into a truck at a mobile food pantry May 13, 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to COVID-19, Guard members have been working at food banks to replace the vital volunteer force they rely on, until it is safe to have them return. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Imwalle)

Staff Sgt. Nathan McElrath, a member of the 138th Fighter Wing, Oklahoma National Guard, loads food into a truck at a mobile food pantry May 13, 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to COVID-19, Guard members have been working at food banks to replace the vital volunteer force they rely on, until it is safe to have them return. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Imwalle)

TULSA, Okla. – The Oklahoma National Guard delivered more than 300,000 pounds of food and 65,000 meals in a month-long mission supporting the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

Throughout the mission, 25 members of the Oklahoma Guard’s 138th Fighter Wing packed crisis relief boxes, worked at mobile pantry sites and transported food to local communities.

“I think we were all overwhelmed when we learned how much of a need our fellow Oklahomans have for food support during these times,” said Senior Master Sgt. Andy Fraser, 138th FW human relations officer and the noncommissioned officer in charge of food bank operations.

“Our eyes were really opened during a mission where we were handing out 40,000 pounds of chicken at a mobile pantry site and the cars in line were backed up for 5 miles,” he said.

While activated April 21-May 21, the Airmen drove 15,990 miles to deliver more than 319,000 pounds of food and more than 65,000 meals.

“These Airmen are working really hard,” Fraser said. “At the start of this mission, they didn’t know what to expect, but they all had a willing heart and impeccable attitudes.”

Airman 1st Class Justin Perry, a heavy equipment operator with the 138th Civil Engineer Squadron, said he wanted to be a part of the food bank operations to help people in the community, and because he did not have a civilian job due to COVID-19.

“No one really knew what to expect coming into this,” Perry said. “All the past [temporary duty assignments] I have been a part of are construction-based because of my job. This is similar because of the manual labor involved, but we also get to hand meals out to the community and pack boxes of food that we know are going to help people.”

Master Sgt. Michael Haywood, air transportation section chief for the 138th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said helping the state is a part of being in the Oklahoma Air National Guard.

“I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life,” Haywood said, “and every time something happens, whether that is a tornado, a flood, wildfires or even a pandemic, Okies come together and take care of our own.”

While supporting the food bank, Airmen worked with Tulsa Kitchens Unite, a program that partners with restaurants to provide free meals to families during the pandemic.

“It’s great seeing how many restaurants and people are contributing to try to help take care of those in need,” Haywood noted. “Those that can provide and help take care of those who can’t. It’s pretty cool to see that.”

The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma distributed 50 percent more food to the 24 counties it supports in April compared to the typical monthly average due to the impact of COVID-19.

“I’m proud to be able to tell people what we are doing here,” Fraser said. “It’s an honor to tell the story.”

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