Michigan National Guard
Story by Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera
ANN ARBOR, Mich.— The definition of appreciation is the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.
The Michigan National Guard is at Food Gatherers in Ann Arbor, and has been for the majority of this year helping the food bank provide food for the residents of Washtenaw County during the pandemic.
“I think it’s wonderful and surprising seeing the service members here doing all of this for everybody is great,” said one food bank client who would like to remain nameless.
This is the first year the client has used the services of a food bank.
“This has been a very hard year,” the client said. “It was made even harder when my daughter contracted the virus.”
The client is not alone in having to rely on food banks for the first time in 2020.
“It’s been record breaking month after record breaking month for the number of pounds of food distributed,” said James Everhart, manager of volunteer programs at Food Gatherers, Ann Arbor.
Food Gatherers distributes food to 170 partner pantries and runs a soup kitchen in downtown Ann Arbor. It works with low-income areas to make sure the neighborhoods are fed with mobile pantries. This year due to distant-learning school curriculum, it is also providing lunches for children who rely on a school lunch during normal times. Airmen with the Michigan Air National Guard are providing distribution assistance for Food Gatherers.
“Having the National Guard come in has just been a huge help for us, we obviously wouldn’t be able to do the amount of food we’re doing if we didn’t have them helping,” said Everhart. “Every week they’re doing thousands of pounds of food, sorting all the rescue food that we get, checking for dates and quality.”
The food bank receives food in a variety of ways, including bulk donations, much of which is donated from stores and local donations. All of the food needs to be reviewed and inspected to ensure it is safe for consumption. After being cleared for consumption, the Airmen prepare bags and boxes so it can than get to the people in a way that is contactless.
Everhart said that bagging and boxing the food is a new hurdle that is done to keep everyone safe while still providing food because the most important thing is to keep everyone fed and healthy.
“It’s something that is needed all of the season and I’ve actually developed more of an appreciation for it,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Bukowiecki, a fire fighter with the 127th Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
There are 12 members of the Michigan Air National Guard working at Food Gatherers who are filling in for food bank volunteers. Since there is more work to do with less people to help out, the Michigan National Guard has stepped up to help the multiple food banks around the state meet this increased need.
“Seeing what your hard work is actually doing, like feeding people,” said Bukowiecki. “It has given me more understanding for what organizations like this actually do.”