National Guard begins work in Butler County today: Here’s what they’ll do

Ten members of Ohio’s National Guard will report for duty today at Shared Harvest Foodbank to assist packing emergency food boxes for pantries in the region.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday activated 300 members of the National Guard to support the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks beginning this morning.

Shared Harvest Foodbank Executive Director Terry Perdue said the Guardsmen will report at 9 a.m. and work until 3 p.m. packing emergency food boxes. They also will pack food to be distributed to food pantries, many of which are struggling because of the lack of volunteers during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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“We’re starting to see vulnerability in our network, which is concerning,” Perdue said. “We called in the National Guard anticipating fewer volunteers so we can maintain the increased level of need for services.”

Perdue said the group might bring in a flatbed truck to help distribute.

Shared Harvest and the 11 other foodbanks in Ohio submitted a collective request for Ohio National Guard assistance, with each foodbank asking for a certain number of Guardsmen.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Fairfield Church of God and Serve City’s food pantry closed its pantry locations, though Serve City’s shelter remains open. Open Door Pantry is open only intermittently, Perdue said.

Shared Harvest has also instructed food pantries that traditionally distributed food through a choice pantry model — meaning visitors can pick items as in a market — change to a prepackaged model “to minimize exposure,” Perdue said.

Ohio’s unemployment has exploded since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. From March 16 to 18, unemployment claims increased by 2,500 percent compared to the same timeframe the week prior. So as more Ohioans become out of work, their reliance on food assistance increases.

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DeWine said last week he’s “fully aware” his orders closing and limiting businesses have caused people to lose their jobs.

“Each one of those orders were thought out, agonized over,” he said Monday. “I made those decisions because I felt the evidence was abundantly clear that those decisions would save lives, would protect lives.”

But the process for Shared Harvest and the food pantries it supports requires forms and data before food can be issued. Some requirements have been waived or suspended, like signatures, proof of residence or an identification card, but visitors still have to complete an intake form.

“We’re asking to completely bypass that and distribute food to whoever is requesting,” said Perdue.

That request has been submitted to DeWine’s office, he said.

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