‘Could not have done this without their help’: National Guard continuing food bank work in Butler County

Ohio National Guard troops have continued their presence in Butler County for a fifth week and have aided the Fairfield-based Shared Harvest Foodbank distribute nearly 600,000 pounds of food to 90 partners in its region.

“We honestly could not have done this without their help,” said Shared Harvest Executive Director Terry Perdue. “They have literally packed thousands of emergency food boxes for people.”

Perdue, who took over as Shared Harvest’s executive director last summer, said the soldiers work Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and are replacing the regular volunteers who have been asked to stay at home to prevent exposure to COVID-19. They have served a total of 2,516 hours assisting Shared Harvest and are expected to stay there through May 26.

On March 23, there were 16 Guard troops working at the food bank. As of Tuesday, Perdue said there were 26 Guard members, who will help with a large distribution today at Ansonia High School in Darke County. He said about 2,000 people volunteer annually at Shared Harvest.

“They are very efficient,” Perdue said.

Shared Harvest is the regional food bank for Butler, Warren, Preble, Darke and Miami counties. About 60 percent of their food distribution are to agencies in Butler and Warren counties.

As of Monday, Perdue said the Guard troops have packed 11,648 emergency boxes which weigh 42 pounds each that contain various proteins and other shelf-stable dry foods, box prep meals such as macaroni and cheese, some meat such as hamburger or hot dogs and some liquid aid. These boxes can feed a family of four for three days, he said.

Last month, Perdue said Shared Harvest held a drive-through food distribution that served 400 families in a matter of hours. Another drive-through distribution held April 4 served 1,300 families, he said.

“We thank the Governor (Mike DeWine) for activating the Guard to help us,” Perdue said.

Nearly five weeks ago, the Ohio Guard activated 300 troops for state active duty for various missions to support communities around the state during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

A few weeks later, that number of troops doubled to primarily provide unarmed local community support to the 12 regional food backs around Ohio along with some ONG medical teams assisting at three state prisons and one federal prison in Ohio, according to Stephanie Beougher, public information officer for Ohio Adjutant General Department.

Beougher said the Guard troops have been called up to state active duty from the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and members of the Ohio Military Reserve.

One of Shared Harvest’s partners, the Salvation Army in Middletown, has seen an increase in need for food assistance since the pandemic began, according to Perdue.

The Salvation Army received just less than 1,200 emergency boxes, which is about 25,096 pounds of food, he said.

Maj. Jud Laidlaw of the Middletown Salvation Army said Shared Harvest has helped his organization by waiving delivery and other distribution fees as well as the normal requirements.

“Right now we are focusing on emergency food distribution here and emergency feeding both here and at our Damon Park building,” Laidlaw said.

He said the organization is providing three days’ worth of bagged lunches twice a week for people who need it, adding that some of the neediest families may not have a stove or refrigerator.

Last week, Laidlaw said there was a miscommunication about the delivery time of several Guard trucks and it did not have a forklift available. Middletown police Officer Jim Lusk saw the problem and asked Laidlaw if he knew of a business that had a forklift. Laidlaw suggested Denny Lumber, just across the railroad tracks. Soon after, Lusk’s cruiser was escorting a forklift from the lumber company to unload the food pallets.

“Volunteers are our lifeline. We live on volunteers,” Laidlaw said. “Some volunteers still come even though their doctors have told them to stay at home.”

He said the Salvation Army is taking all of the precautions to protect their volunteers concerning social distancing, masks, washing hands and use of hand sanitizer that are on their counters.

“It takes volunteers to unpack the food, pack the food, prepare the food, and distribute the food,” Laidlaw said. “We’re making the most of the great volunteers we have. When we work together, our citizens win and that’s what it’s all about.”

Photojournalist Nick Graham contributed to this report.

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