Story by Master Sgt. David Kujawa
Michigan National Guard
PONTIAC, Mich. -- More than 3.5 million pounds of food have been distributed thanks in part to efforts by Soldiers and Airmen from the Michigan National Guard during the Covid-19 pandemic. The troops have been working with local food pantries and other charities to ensure that the food gets to those in need.
The Guard personnel are already working on plans to ensure the food distribution continues without disruption through the upcoming holiday season and beyond.
“The daily work of the Michigan National Guard makes a tremendous impact on our work, said Stacy Averill, vice president of community giving and public relations for Gleaners Community Food Bank. “During the pandemic crisis, Gleaners has expanded their food distributions by more than 40% in order to reach 150,000 households each month through our expanded food distributions and ongoing support of more than 500 partner agencies. We are honored to have the Michigan National Guard stand with Gleaners during this time of great need.”
The Guard was first deployed to provide manpower assistance to local food banks in March and have been working with charitable organizations ever since.
For the Guard personnel, working with the charities have been a rewarding mission, said Army Command Sgt. Major Joseph Gregory, the Task Force 172nd Joint Force Headquarters Senior Noncommissioned Officer for the food bank mission.
“With many of (the food banks’) usual volunteers unable to support due to Covid-19 and with a greater demand due to the pandemic, their mission would not be able to be accomplished without the support of the Michigan National Guard,” Gregory said. “Our Soldiers and our Airmen can be, and are, very proud of the work they are doing.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gleaners Community Food Bank suspended the majority of their warehouse volunteer shifts that are in line with the organization’s safety precautions. This left a gap in vital support for the food banks, a gap quickly filled by the Michigan Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen of the state’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force.
In April, Gleaners began hosting Michigan National Guardsmen at its Oakland County (Pontiac) Distribution Warehouse. There, the troops helped organize emergency food boxes specifically built for home-bound seniors, veterans, patients, young mothers and many others in need. The National Guard packed 1.9 million pounds of food boxes through mid-summer. In September, the Guard also began working at Gleaner’s distribution center in Warren.
“The Guard members provide vital service to our Warren and Oakland County Distribution Centers and helped pack 3.5 million pounds of emergency food,” Averill said.
The Michigan National Guard’s culture identity is that of a values-based organization that builds a sense of community and purpose while adapting to meet the needs of the public.
“Working at the Warren distribution center is a great opportunity. I’m glad to be part of a great organization that is helping out so many, especially as we move into the holiday season,” said Spc. Brianna Randall, a member of the 1461st Transportation Company, Michigan Army National Guard located in Jackson.
Guard personnel work closely with Gleaners and the other food banks to ensure the right manpower is plugged in where it is needed most, to ensure the operation runs smoothly six days a week.
“Even though we have teams at each warehouse, from time to time we help each other out when needed. I find each team to be committed to the work and everyone works extremely well together,” said Army 1st. Lt. Tyler Dodge, a member of the 210th Military Police Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard, who is serving as the officer in charge at the Gleaners center in Pontiac.
Gregory said that while few of the Guard personnel may have thought they would one day be assigned to a food pantry, the work is part of the Guard’s mission to serve both state and nation.
“Our Soldiers and Airmen are honored to serve the Michigan communities and their people in need,” Gregory said.