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NEWS | Sept. 16, 2020

Michigan National Guard supports food banks

By Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera Michigan National Guard

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. – During normal times, one in every six people struggle with hunger in southwest Michigan, but these are not normal times and that struggle has only grown larger.

For 38 years, the South Michigan Food Bank in Battle Creek has been feeding people in eight counties in southwest Michigan, and this continues during COVID-19 with the help of the Michigan National Guard.

“Early on, we realized our community needs us now more than ever,” said Summer Sunnock, advancement director for the South Michigan Food Bank. “We recognized that people are going to still need to be fed and we needed to keep them safe, so to continue feeding and keeping people safe, we moved our distribution model to a drive-thru. Our volunteers and the National Guard have been packaging and pre-packaging boxes and bags to hand out to our clients.”

The South Michigan Food Bank distributes food to 285 pantries in the area, helping to feed over 100,000 people throughout the year. Since March, the amount of food it distributes has only increased with more families in need due to COVID-19 hardships.

“I feel honored to be a part of South Food Bank in this time, where people need food now more than ever,” said Sunnock.

In April, the Michigan National Guard was appointed to help seven food banks throughout the state. In late July, the Soldiers and Airmen who were on that mission moved on to other missions. Due to the increased need, the food bank missions were extended late last month, with new teams assigned.

“I never realized how much the National Guard did until now, and we’ve been able to have a good relationship with them,” said Sunnock. “Having that awareness of how they are constantly doing something to better communities, helping people who are in need.”

The South Michigan Food Bank runs every Tuesday. More than 400 families are served, compared to about 200 in March, and most of the food bank's volunteers are staying home to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m a very community-oriented person, so it’s been an honor to me to be able to help out here,” said Master Sgt. Carmen LaGuardia of the 110th Wing at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge Airman at the South Michigan Food Bank.

At home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, LaGuardia puts in about 150 hours a month helping her local food pantry. Now, in her National Guard role, she is helping on the southwest side of the state.

“It means everything to me, giving everything I can give and helping out and being a part of something,” said LaGuardia.

Like many, she is happy to do her part during this pandemic. She is one of seven Airmen who are helping fill in the gaps at the South Michigan Food Bank.

“Whatever they need me to do I’ll do it,” said Staff Sgt. Mitch Kalinowski. “It’s good to give back in whatever ways we can, especially with the coronavirus going on, the need is higher now than it has ever been.”

In one day, they packaged 2,504 bags of granola, more than 5,000 pounds.

“We’ve been setting those goals and beating them. It’s almost been easy for us because we’re so motivated right now,” said Kalinowski.



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