Ohio National Guard to finish mission at Ohio food banks in July

After more than a year helping food banks across Ohio during the COVID pandemic, the Ohio National Guard will be leaving in July.

The Ohio National Guard and State Defense members will wrap up their time assisting food banks in Ohio on July 2.

“Over the past 15 months, our Ohio National Guard members have stepped up in many different ways, and I am extremely grateful for their service and dedication,” said Gov. Mike DeWine in a media release.

More than 5,600 Ohio National Guard and Ohio State Defense Force members were deployed to support the COVID response. About 500 were helping food banks at the peak of the pandemic.

They were able to distribute more than 56 million pounds of food at Ohio food banks.

“As Ohioans, we have taken an oath to serve this great state. Our Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen are ready to respond at a moment’s notice when asked by the governor to help our neighbors in any emergency. In this case, it was a pandemic that affected every corner of our state,” said Ohio Air National Guard Col. Gregg Hesterman, commander of the joint task force overseeing the COVID-19 missions. “Ohio National Guard members bring a unique combination of military and civilian skillsets to any mission. Skills like problem solving and adaptability that can lead to a successful outcome, whether it’s on a battlefield or in a food bank.”

National Guard members have been stationed at 14 different food banks around the state, including The Foodbank Inc. in Dayton.

“It’s hard to put into words how helpful it has been to have the National Guard with us,” said Lee Lauren Truesdale, the chief development officer at The Foodbank.

The Foodbank expanded the services it offered during the pandemic to help meet the dramatically increased need of the Miami Valley. The Foodbank also cut its in-person staff in half and stopped allowing volunteers to tamp down on the spread of COVID. The 50 National Guard members assigned to The Foodbank helped fill the people gaps.

“They were with us through thick and thin. They took the place of our workforce and volunteer force,” Truesdale said. “They have been tremendously helpful with our drive-thru pantries and mass food distributions. Especially with so many first time food assistance users, it was nice to have them directing traffic in a uniform... sometimes just someone in a uniform makes people feel better.”

Locally, at the peak of the pandemic, food need doubled. Many of the people in the miles long lines at The Foodbank had never been food insecure before.

The Foodbank has about five guard members now, Truesdale said. The National Guard helped the food bank with packing boxes, transporting food and much more. The Foodbank plans to welcome volunteers back in July after the National Guard leaves.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks put out the request for the National Guard to state leaders.

“We want to extend our deepest gratitude and thanks on behalf of Ohio’s food banks and the millions of Ohioans who received critical food assistance as a result of the hard work, support, and dedication of the Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who have served this critical hunger relief mission. Quite frankly, we could not have delivered the tremendous response without their leadership and assistance. We will never forget this gift of service,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Ohio Association of Foodbanks executive director, in a media release.

Members of the Adjutant General’s Department continue to collaborate with other state agencies on COVID-related missions, including administering vaccines and processing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims.

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