SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California Military Department set another unprecedented milestone June 10, surpassing 50 million meals packed and distributed as part of its statewide COVID-19 humanitarian mission.
California National Guard and California State Guard service members began working food banks across the state in late March just as stay-at-home restrictions were initiated and the number of regular food bank volunteers dwindled.
Roughly 70 days into the mission, Cal Guard hasn’t stopped its critical support to this viable community operation, even during a period of civil unrest.
“I don’t think we’re going to be slowing down either,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Ernest V. Serrato, operations sergeant major at 115th Regional Support Group, which transformed into Joint Task Force 115 to execute the mission. The task force oversees food bank operations and tracks daily output numbers.
“It’s a conjunction of the Soldiers and Airmen coming together to support their communities,” he said. “They believe in what they’re doing. They believe in helping out whenever we’re called upon, whether its civil unrest or food bank operations. We’ll continue to work as hard as we can to make sure we can support everybody who we can.”
Cal Guard operated at more than 30 food banks in 20 counties across the state. As many as 700 Soldiers and Airmen have supported the mission, but not as many troops are needed now that regular food bank volunteers begin to return and other community organizations step up to help.
“Reaching 50 million just shows how committed Cal Guard is to serving and assisting citizens and communities of this great state,” said 1st Sgt. Scott Flynn, 132nd Multi-Role Bridge Company noncommissioned officer in charge. Flynn oversees more than two dozen troops at Santa Cruz County Food Bank, where U.S. Army-trained engineers adapted their skills to provide warehouse support.
“They absolutely know the importance of the mission. In these uncertain times, with many Californians out of work and experiencing hardships, we got to see first-hand, especially during distribution days, the value and effect food bank operations have in Santa Cruz County and California in general,” Flynn said.
“I will say that the California Guard has been undeniably very valuable,” said Lauren Reid, communications director with the California Association of Food Banks. “There hasn’t been a lot of volunteers because of COVID-19. The National Guard really stepped up and is doing a great job.”
Cal Guard’s first food operation was with Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services in late March. Those efforts spread, as other food banks requested the Guard’s assistance.
“Our primary mission is to ramp up our operations to support the entire community and help all those affected by COVID-19,” said Blake Young, president and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. “We requested from the National Guard troops to help us break down all the food that we have, package it and be able to get the food out to the distribution sites to feed … families of our county.”