COLUMBUS, Ohio – Hundreds of members of the Ohio National Guard are helping 12 food banks across the state distribute food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine authorized the activation of approximately 400 Ohio National Guard personnel March 18. Guard members were placed on state active duty, along with some members of the Ohio Military Reserve, to support Operation Steady Resolve. Their initial mission is to help 12 food banks package, transport and distribute food and other essential items to all 88 counties to assist the state’s most vulnerable people.
“When the community calls, we respond,” said Lt. Col. Mike Draper, chief of staff for Joint Task Force 37 (JTF-37). “Our mission may grow, but whatever those missions are, we are here to help.”
The governor’s proclamation was made after the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services asked for help because many food bank volunteers are staying home to avoid contracting the coronavirus.
“They became overwhelmed, given the impact it (COVID-19) has had on their labor force, and we’ve been able to plug that gap so far,” said Maj. Nick Palmer, operations officer for JTF-37.
Draper said people might be concerned when they see National Guard personnel in their neighborhoods during this pandemic, and he has tried to ensure citizens that the Guard members working at each of the 12 food banks are from the local area they are supporting.
Although Operation Steady Resolve is still in the early phases, Draper said Guard members supporting one of the food banks were able to package more than 1,000 meals in a day – more than half of what that food bank does in a typical month.
While those supporting Operation Steady Resolve face potential exposure to the coronavirus, JTF-37 is working to ensure they are as safe as possible.
“We don’t know how long this mission will last, and we have to make certain our force is healthy so they can keep providing aid and comfort to our neighbors in need,” said Lt. Col. Gary Katz, a flight surgeon assigned to the 178th Wing and working on JTF-37. “I’m confident the measures we are taking will help diminish the severity of this situation.”
While JTF-37 is actively working to limit the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an unprecedented event for the National Guard and requires an unprecedented response.
“This is unlike anything else we’ve ever done before,” Draper said. “We typically respond to event-driven emergencies – tornadoes, floods, snowstorms, hurricanes – events with shorter life cycles and tangible impacts. This challenge we face now is invisible, it’s growing at an increasingly rapid rate, and it has an unnerving effect on the public. We can be that calming presence for our community.”
Palmer agreed: “This is coast-to-coast. It’s in our homes, whether that’s the actual infection or the fear of it. There isn’t a single person in this country that isn’t impacted by COVID-19. In this time of fear and disruption of daily life, we’re ready and we’re here. We’re in this together and we’re fulfilling our contract to Ohioans.”