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NEWS | April 30, 2020

NY National Guard Soldiers delivering meals to rural seniors

By Sgt. Alexander Rector New York National Guard

NORWICH, N.Y. – New York Army National Guard Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment’s Delta Company are ensuring that senior citizens in one of New York’s most rural areas, trapped inside by the COVID-19 pandemic, are getting enough meals.

From April 21-24, 10 Soldiers who drill at the New York State Armory in Ithaca delivered 3,200 meals for the Chenango County Area Agency on Aging. The mission will continue May 5.

The rural county northeast of Binghamton and south of Syracuse is home to 50,000 people scattered across 899 square miles of rolling hills and valleys.

The Chenango County mission is one of many food distribution jobs New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have been conducting since New York’s coronavirus response began in early March.

Soldiers and Airmen have passed out 3,386,007 meals in New York City; 90,408 in Westchester County; 2,589 meals in Albany County; and 2,588 in Schenectady County.

Getting food to people in rural regions of the state is particularly challenging.

Since its inception in the 1970s, the Chenango County Area Agency on Aging has provided hot meals to elderly residents throughout the county. But the unique challenges presented by the global pandemic caused county leaders to rethink the program.

“Normally we have over 100 volunteers that volunteer for us,” said Jackie Lisk, the nutritional services coordinator for the Chenango County Area Agency on Aging. “We used to send out hot meals every day, but now we are doing frozen and shelf-stable” food.

Lisk was forced to find a way to keep the program running while keeping both the clients and volunteers safe.

“Several of our volunteers are aged 60 and above and are in the category that is most at risk,” Lisk said. “We didn’t want to expose them any more than they had to and we wanted to keep the clients safe.”

Agency officials suspended operations April 13 until a safer way to continue the program could be identified.

It was during this time that county officials approached the agency and suggested the National Guard could help.

The Soldiers began the mission April 21, using county public transit buses to deliver meals across the sprawling region. “They just showed up and started working,” Lisk said. “I was impressed on how organized they were.”

Though the Soldiers are extensively involved, it is only temporary and they have not taken over, they emphasized.

“The volunteers make all of the food and put it into the bags and boxes for us,” said Spc. Ross Gillman, an infantryman assigned to Delta Company. “Then we go to the houses on the bus and deliver the boxes of non-perishable goods.

“It seems like everyone is happy to have us here,” Gillman said. “All of the volunteers are extremely thankful and people are really happy to have us here.”

“I remember the other day there was this little kid and he was so excited to see us,” Gillman said. “He asked us, are you guys in the Army? Captain America is in the Army!”

The Soldiers will continue to assist the county until the pandemic subsides or the agency can resume normal operations.



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