LEAWOOD, Kan. – Social distancing requirements have made it difficult for meal packaging services that rely on volunteers. The Kansas National Guard is pitching in to help fill the gap.
Since late April, 40 to 50 members of the Kansas Guard have shown up to Leawood to work in one of seven meal packaging lines. Members of the Guard pack, weigh, seal and box food bags that include items like macaroni and cheese, Spanish rice and minestrone soup. The food is put into seven-meal “pantry packs” in another line at the building and stacked on pallets to be distributed at food pantries throughout Kansas.
The Guard members have packaged more than 4 million meals for food-insecure Kansans.
“The Outreach program has provided us with meals that have been purchased through KDEM (the Kansas Department of Emergency Management),” said Capt. Michael Ludwick, commander, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery. “We are currently working towards 5 million meals.”
The assembly line process for constructing the meals requires a team of four to six Guard members at each table. Each team is responsible for packaging one of the seven meal varieties. Two Guard members scoop raw product into funnels while a third holds the meal bag, which includes the seasoning. Another team member weighs the bag to ensure it is within the weight tolerance level. The meal is then vacuum sealed and placed in a box to be packed up.
“This mission is helping a lot,” said Spc. Gabriella Guzman, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery, Kansas Army Guard combat medic. “Because of COVID-19, there are a lot of people unemployed, especially with families that need food.”
“We try to pack roughly 12 pallets a day, which is over 2,000 pantry packs,” said Tech. Sgt. Douglas Fisher, 127th Weather Flight, Kansas Air National Guard. “This is just part of what they will receive at the food pantries they visit. The rest includes fresh produce and dairy products.”
Many Guard members joined the military with hopes of helping their community, and the million-meals mission provides that opportunity.
“This is a unique mission,” Ludwick added. “It’s a joint venture with both the Air and Army Guard. We have a lot of unique talents, and this is a great opportunity for them to come together, learn from each other, build efficiencies and support the surrounding communities.”