MERRILLVILLE, Ind. – Indiana National Guard troops from the 381st Military Police Company in Plymouth are helping distribute food to the needy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The assistance of the Indiana National Guard is so critical for us because they are adept and willing to move on the fly,” said Victor Garcia, executive director of the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. “It is immensely helpful as the leader of an organization where we have to deploy resources and shift gears at a moment’s notice, and the Guard is used to that.”
Because of the coronavirus, food bank volunteers are staying home while the need for food is increasing. Gov. Eric J. Holcomb activated Indiana Citizen-Soldiers to assist the facility in its primary mission, “to feed people today, and end hunger tomorrow by inspiring and collaborating with our community.”
“To mobilize the Guard as quickly as they have has been tremendous,” said Garcia, the facility’s director since 2019. “Our initial request for support was about a week ago, and it happened quickly.”
From the moment they arrived, Guard men and women worked with Garcia to identify needs after the facility shifted strictly to a drive-thru service model to maintain social distancing.
“This group has been great to work with and has interacted well with my group here,” said Garcia. “You point them in a direction, and they just get it done. They’ve accomplished so much work in a week when we thought it was going to take two weeks to complete.”
Soldiers continued to work alongside facility staff members to fill critical volunteer roles. Together, they packed 44,780 pounds of food, or 2,069 boxes, by April 4.
“When the Guard gets activated, it’s important to show that we are here for the community,” said Sgt. Joshua Sunderman, squad leader of the 12-man group from the 381st Military Police Company. “This is giving so much help and hope to people who would otherwise be without food right now.”
The food bank’s core business is to source food for 113 partner agencies comprised of local food pantries and kitchens. Since health concerns have limited the distribution abilities of some of the agencies and volunteers, some of the needs have been temporarily filled by the food bank itself with help from the Guard and governor’s office.
“I can’t stress enough how critical a partnership this has been and how much this means to the community,” said Garcia. “I don’t care who you are, we will be here for you and with the Indiana National Guard we are able to be there now more than ever before.”