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Cal Guard members use civilian driving skills to help community

By Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza | California National Guard | April 1, 2020

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Army National Guard members assisting the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services have stretched their humanitarian support roles since being activated for almost two weeks in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

This element’s initial mission was boxing, palletizing and warehousing food as directed by civilian staff. But now a group from the 233rd Engineer Detachment, 340th Brigade Support Battalion, 115th Regional Support Group, has upped its responsibilities. About a half-dozen Soldiers will serve as truck drivers, operating company vehicles to bring food out to the public.

“That’s what we’re looking at now. We’ve gotten more (civilian) volunteers, and now we can move into a new role for the National Guard, which is just as important,” said Sandra Yahya, Sacramento Food Bank warehouse and inventory manager. “There’s a program we call direct distribution, which is basically giving our products to the people. The Soldiers will be in direct operation with our clients. If not for the National Guard’s help, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

Sacramento Food Bank is the first facility Cal Guard members assisted after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call-up of his reserve force, and now Cal Guard Soldiers and Airmen are helping at nearly a dozen food banks throughout the state.

“We’ve gotten an increase in volunteers the last few weeks, but many are still sheltered in place and can’t come in,” said Yahya. “So we’re going to utilize the National Guard where we can. We can put volunteers to where they were before and move the Soldiers to where we need more help.”

Yahya said Soldiers take a series of tests online. After confirming they have Class A or B motor vehicle licenses, they rode with food bank drivers and observed routes and drop-off and pick-up locations.

“First, they asked if anyone has any (truck) driving experience and if they had a certain type of license. I raised my hand, said my family owns a trucking company,” said U.S. Army Spc. Dylan Ney, 223rd specialist. “I said this is no big deal compared to what we usually drive.”

Members of the Cal Guard usually support the food bank behind the scenes, in the warehouse’s vital operations area. In their new roles, they visibly interact with the Northern California community. Sacramento Food Banks serves up to 150,000 recipients per month and associates with more than 200 vendors and organizations.

“They needed extra drivers. There are a lot of supplies coming in that need to be taken out to the community,” Ney said. “It’s important to me because I have the experience. I know how to drive. If they need anything to go out, I can accomplish that mission and get it done for them.”

Nearly two dozen Guard members have been assigned to Sacramento Food Bank. California Guard members have boxed more than 1.5 million meals from all food bank operations in the state.