SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – More than two months after Gov. Mike DeWine activated members of the Ohio National Guard to help distribute food at food banks statewide, the need in the community is still prevalent.
As the state slowly begins to reopen and life returns to a new normal, Ohio National Guard members across the state continue to package and distribute food to local communities.
Nine members assigned to the 178th Wing and the 123rd Air Control Squadron, the wing’s geographically separated unit, began serving their local community at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Springfield.
The team was activated to help the Ohio Army National Guard’s 237th Support Battalion, Echo Company, package food boxes and distribute them at homes, drive-through sites and mobile locations.
“We were refreshing reinforcements,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Staten, a defender assigned to the 178th Security Forces Squadron. “All of the Airmen and Soldiers here came together as a team and work very well together.”
On average, the Airmen and Soldiers package 500 boxes of food a day and distribute them to almost 1,000 people a week in Champaign, Logan and Clark counties. Guard members also provide food to 170 families who are not mobile and to homeless people currently sheltered in hotels.
“It’s a great opportunity to serve and be a part of an operation,” said Tech Sgt. Byron Ingram, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Airmen assigned to the Second Harvest Food Bank. “This is why we joined the Guard, to serve the state and our local community.”
The food bank reported a 57% increase in the number of people served compared to before the pandemic.
“It’s rewarding interacting with community members and hearing how grateful they are and hearing them thank you,” said Airman 1st Class Hallie Mills, an Airman assigned to the 178th Wing.
The food bank is expecting to serve 55,000 people by the end of the year, up 17,801 from last year. The National Guard has been critical to keeping up with the increased demand for food.
“When you can see the true need that the people you are serving have, that makes the experience even more special,” said Ingram.
“We have the opportunity to serve our community and help in a time of need,” said Staten. “For these people, this may be the only access they have to food, so being able to be the person that helps them is pretty rewarding. It’s nice to know that you are helping these people out directly and making an impact on their lives.”
The opportunity has allowed the Airmen serving at the food bank to grow individually and use the skills they have learned through the Air Force to give back.
Being called to serve is not a new experience for many Airmen and Soldiers who have been deployed overseas. However, being able to help at the Second Harvest Food Bank brings a new meaning to service before self for the Airmen assigned to the mission.
“It’s a completely different feeling to serve in the community than overseas in a deployed environment,” said Staff Sgt. Lucas Williams, a radar technician assigned to the 123rd Air Control Squadron. “Both experiences are equally rewarding. Serving in the community has been rewarding because you can see the impact we’re making on others' lives firsthand.”