Olivia Alvord, Staff Writer
The Washington National Guard was deployed for food bank assistance on April 2, and have been on the COVID-19 front lines since then. State Senator Steve Hobbs, a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, has been selected to oversee the Washington National Guard’s numerous levels of support to the state amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to a Washington National Guard media advisory issued on April 2, “members of the Washington National Guard will be located at food banks across the state to assist with food distribution. Guard personnel will fill a critical staffing shortage at a time when the need for food is increasing…on Fri., April 3, Gov. Jay Inslee will visit Guardsmen at the Nourish Pierce County Warehouse in Lakewood, Wash., where Guardsmen will help package and deliver meals.”
Although typically viewed as dealing with military operations, the deployment of the Washington National Guard is just another humanitarian mission focused on the needs of the people amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. As mentioned in the Washington National Guard media advisory, Guardsmen have filled a critical role in the staffing shortage after Gov. Inslee called them in for help. According to KOMO News, “The state’s largest food bank operator, Nourish Pierce County, has had 75 percent of their volunteers leave because of their age and medical condition and need to stay home.”
On April 2, four members were deployed to Pasco, Wash. to fill in for workers who help distribute food with Pasco Community Services. The same day, 40 guardsmen were sent to Blue Mountain Action Council Food Bank in Walla Walla, Wash. to “help the warehouse with distribution, building and packing boxes, and unloading trucks at the Salvation Army Food Bank,” according to the Union-Bulletin.
Additionally, on April 13, guardsmen began service deployment with the West Seattle Food Bank and Northwest Harvest-a hunger relief agency based in Kent, Wash. So far, guardsmen have distributed packaged food boxes to over 370 food banks throughout Washington with Northwest Harvest.
As of April 14, the Washington National Guard has helped pack and distribute over 1.6 million pounds of food to Washington residents. In addition to supporting 17 food banks across the state, the Washington National Guard has also supplied aid to COVID-19 testing sites in numerous counties. In the near future, guardsmen may also be deployed to help in homeless shelters but for now, they are just doing what is most needed in the community.
Washington is among a number of states, including California, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, Maryland, and Rhode Island, which have activated the National Guard to help combat the spread of the coronavirus and alleviate food insecurity for Americans. Although there is still a risk when using the National Guard members as volunteers, guardsmen have military resources, compensation, and sanitation that normal volunteers do not have access to.
In addition to the much-needed call to action for the National Guard to aid with Food Bank distribution across Washington, Gov. Inslee launched the WA Food Fund – a food relief program with almost a million dollars in funding for food banks across Washington.
Governor Inslee released a short video regarding the WA Food Fund, and said, “Every dollar raised at WA Food Fund will go to our food banks and our food pantries, so people and their families can be adequately fed.”
According to KUOW, a radio station in Tumwater, Wash., the WA Food Fund could not have come at a better time, “since the coronavirus outbreak, local donations to food banks have dropped 70 percent while demand has jumped. The state estimates that more than 1.6 million people will need food assistance in the near future.”