Soldiers working in food pantry warehouse.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Mullen, 178th Wing

Cpl. Harold Owens Jr., a team leader assigned to the 837th Engineer Battalion, pushes a cart of boxes packed with food March 27, 2020, at The Foodbank, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio. Owens is one of the 25 Soldiers serving at The Foodbank, Inc. on state active duty to help with food packaging and distribution to local community members in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dayton-area food bank gets needed boost from its National Guard neighbors

Story by Staff Sgt. Amber Mullen, 178th Wing

DAYTON, Ohio (03/30/20)

In a disaster or crisis situation, the Ohio National Guard is always ready to assist the state and local communities.

Gov. Mike DeWine issued a proclamation March 18 activating nearly 400 Ohio National Guard members to provide humanitarian support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of those called to state active duty to help their communities are 25 Soldiers — assigned to the 837th Engineer Battalion and 237th Support Battalion — who are supporting The Foodbank, Inc., which serves the city of Dayton and Montgomery, Greene and Preble counties. The Soldiers are responsible for packaging, distributing and loading up food for local community members in need.

“It feels good to be out in the community doing something positive, showing people that there is hope and that there are people who care,” said Spc. Kimiko Shinn, a heavy equipment repairer assigned to the 837th Engineering Battalion.

The governor activated the Ohio National Guard to help alleviate the recent staffing shortages at food banks across the state. The Foodbank, Inc. utilizes 8,000 volunteers annually to help package and distribute food. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these volunteers are unable to assist due to public health concerns. This makes the role of the National Guard vital to the food bank’s ongoing operations and ability to get critical food and other items to Ohioans in need, especially as more citizens’ economic situations become more tenuous because of the pandemic.

“Having the National Guard here to help us distribute services to folks who are struggling to pay bills, through no fault of their own, is really helping serve those individuals.” said Lee Lauren Truesdale, the chief development officer at The Foodbank, Inc. “The extra manpower has really been essential.”

Many of the Soldiers serving at the food bank are stationed down the road in Springfield, Ohio or they live locally to the Dayton area. When the governor’s call came for Ohio National Guard members to assist, all of the 25 Soldiers serving at The Foodbank, Inc. volunteered for the assignment and were eager to help out and give back to their local community.

“Knowing that I’m doing something to help a community in desperate need means everything to me,” said Sgt. Andrew Lynch, a platoon sergeant assigned to Company E, 237th Support Battalion.

With the current pandemic, the food bank is experiencing record-setting volumes of customers in need. On average, the food bank will serve 200 families in a day during drive-thru hours. On March 25 alone, the food bank — with the assistance of the Ohio National Guard Soldiers working there — served 667 families in need.

“It is a wonderful thing what the Ohio National Guard is doing because we need their help,” said Shallon Coleman, executive director of Abigail’s Journey Inc., one of the more than 100 member food pantries, community kitchens and shelters that partner with The Foodbank, Inc. to distribute food throughout the surrounding tri-county area. “For the Guard to show up and be so willing to help provide the resources necessary for the community, makes a world of a difference.”

With the assistance of Ohio National Guard members, The Foodbank, Inc. has been able to continue its mission of relieving hunger for those individuals and families in need across the communities it serves. During uncertain times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a mission that is more critical than ever.