Gov. Mike DeWine visited the Second Harvest Food Bank in Springfield Friday afternoon to show his appreciation to the more than two dozen members of the Ohio National Guard that have been helping out there for more than 15 months.
The governor’s visit marked the last day those members will be serving at the foodbank as they stepped in last March to aid in its operations.
Members of the Ohio National Guard have received, packed, and distributed approximately 150 million pounds of food and groceries to over 2.9 million Ohioans throughout the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Governor’s office.
DeWine stated that he wanted to thank those members as they helped distribute food at a time when demand for those services drastically increased due to coronavirus pandemic.
“They filled an absolutely critical role in making sure that Ohioans that did not have food had food,” he told reporters in Springfield.
Second Harvest typically serves 4.5 million meals a year to those living in Clark, Champaign and Logan counties. However, the nonprofit has served 11 million meals since March 2020, according to its executive director Tyra Jackson.
The pandemic disrupted the operations of food banks across the state and the economic impacts drove up demand for those services.
Jackson said that early on in the pandemic, volunteers were unable to help out do to the pandemic, especially as many of them are senior citizens and were more vulnerable to its impacts.
As a result, those in the national guard were called to assist and on average 20 to 25 of those members per day aided in packing and boxing food, distributing food at drive-throughs, as well as contributing to other duties at the foodbank.
They worked Monday through Friday at Second Harvest for the past 15 months.
Before that, the foodbank relied on 10 to 15 volunteers per day throughout the week. Some of those volunteers have since come back. However, Jackson said they will need more volunteers to continue to sustain the programs offered by Second Harvest, especially as demand for those services are still high.
That includes a food delivery program that started early on in the pandemic and was aided by the National Guard. It started as a lot of elder people where not able to come to the food bank to pick up food. Now the program serves 300 households in Clark, Champaign and Logan counties each week.
The withdrawal of emergency support from the Ohio National Guard to local food banks and warehouses comes as coronavirus related restrictions have been lifted state wide and vaccinations have become more widely available.
“The fact that the guard is leaving is a sign that we are getting back to normal. This is what we want. We should look at this as a victory,” DeWine said.
The idea is that members of the National Guard will be able to return to their civilian jobs, school and their military training, according to a June 4 news release from the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department.
“Leading up to (Friday), the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department will be working with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and 14 food banks and regional warehouses across the state to mentor and train new or returning volunteers and staff members in successful processes and procedures that have mitigated COVID-19 risks at each facility,” the news release added.
Jackson said though the number of people served has decreased in recent months, that need is still higher than it was before the pandemic.
She also noted that food insecurity has been an issue for sometime in the counties that Second Harvest serves and the pandemic has made it worse.
“It is going to take people a while to recover from the economic impact. Just because you get another job doesn’t mean that resolves all of your bills that have piled up. It is going to take a while for people to recover,” she said.
Second Harvest receives food from grocery stores as well as state funding in order to purchase food. That support will continue, Jackson said.
DeWine stated on Friday that “we are going to use what funds are needed to make sure that food is available.”
Those interested in volunteering at Second Harvest can visit the nonprofits website at theshfb.org/get-involved.
By the numbers
11 million: Number of meals served by Second Harvest since March 2020
4.2 million: Number of meals served by the foodbank in a typical year
25: Number of Ohio National Guard members that assisted daily at the foodbank
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