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Michigan National Guard helps food banks meet increased need

Michigan National Guard Soldiers with Michigan’s Task Force Spartan work with Gleaners of Warren, Michigan, Community Food Bank, Nov. 24, 2020. Army and Air National Guard members filled and labeled dry and frozen green bean bags and cold and dry food boxes, reaching a goal of 90,000 lbs. during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

Michigan National Guard Soldiers with Michigan’s Task Force Spartan work with Gleaners of Warren, Michigan, Community Food Bank, Nov. 24, 2020. Army and Air National Guard members filled and labeled dry and frozen green bean bags and cold and dry food boxes, reaching a goal of 90,000 lbs. during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan National Guard (MING) Soldiers and Airmen, working alongside food bank workers and volunteers across the state, have helped distribute more than 34 million pounds of food to those in need.

The Soldiers and Airmen are part of the state's COVID-19 Joint Task Force (JTF) 172. The food bank task force was set up by the MING Aug. 23.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, community food banks had to suspend most of the work done by volunteers in their warehouses, leaving a critical gap in operations. That gap was quickly filled by the Michigan Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen.

"With a JTF comprising an average of 95 Michigan National Guard members, approximately 1.3 million pounds of food moves through nine food banks (per week) to local homes, schools and shelters," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Meadows, commander and officer in charge, Joint Force Air Component for the Michigan Joint Forces Headquarters.

"The accolades the leadership receives from the food bank presidents, chief executive officers (CEO) and directors is nothing short of amazing," he said.

The JTF has worked closely with the food banks to ensure troops were where they needed to be so that operations run smoothly five days a week. During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the food banks had a surge in food orders. The response from the MING has exceeded many expectations.

"The Comstock mission would have taken a big hit during COVID-19 if not for the team of young and strong Soldiers stepping in and filling a critical void," said Ken Estelle, president and chief executive officer of the West Michigan Food Bank in Comstock Park.

"Forty of the state's 83 counties are the responsibility of our food banks," said Estelle. "When it was looking bad in April 2020, the Guard stepped in and gave us one of the best years we've ever had."

In April 2020, Gleaners Community Food Bank began hosting MING at its Oakland County (Pontiac) distribution warehouse. National Guard teams began assisting the Gleaner's center in Warren. Soldiers and Airmen had distributed 7 million pounds of food before the Task Force was set up in August. By December, the Guard had a presence in two more Gleaners locations, both in Detroit.

"The detachment of Guard personnel who work at the Gleaners warehouses has made a big difference," said Gerry Brisson, president and CEO for the Gleaners Community Food Bank Detroit. "The daily work of the Michigan National Guard makes a tremendous impact on our work. We are very thankful and consider them as valued members of our team."

Brisson said Gleaners is distributing more than 40% more food during the pandemic, reaching 150,000 households a month thanks to the partnership with the MING.

"The food bank of Eastern Michigan distributes over 28 million pounds of food through a network of over 700 relief partners in 22 counties," said Tina Martinez, director of operations, Eastern Michigan Food Bank. "Our normal operations nearly came to a complete halt early on during the coronavirus, then from across the state came our heroes – the MING."

Accomplishing the multimillion-pound mark is remarkable.

"Reaching over 34 million pounds of food distribution in less than a year makes me proud of the great team of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen I am leading in the JTF," said Meadows. "I am confident that we are motivated more than ever because of the life-sustaining work being done for our fellow Michiganders."

The complicated network of food distribution is a monumental task for all organizers involved.

"From Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the south side of the state, the MING has provided anything from pulling orders, loading trucks, sorting food and keeping us on track during the holiday needs," said Meadows.

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