CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – When wildfires threatened thousands of homes in the Sumner-Bonney Lake area, related power outages threatened an important lifeline.
“The Guard saved this food bank, they came in with generators and kept this food bank going,” said Laurie Dent, superintendent of the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District. “It’s the only one we have in Bonney Lake.”
When the power went out, Dent received a frantic phone call from Stacey Crnich, executive director of the Bonney Lake Food Bank, who was concerned that thousands of dollars worth of perishable items would be ruined, leaving families without a healthy meal. Crnich desperately searched for a location to store the items needing refrigeration before they went to waste.
“I told her, give me a minute to make a call. I think I know someone that can help,” said Dent.
Dent called her brother, Brig. Gen. Dan Dent, the commanding general of the Washington Army National Guard, to see if the Guard – which was already helping the food bank – could set up a generator at the location. Staff Sgt. Tanner Gould, a field artilleryman supporting the food bank, arrived with generators and set them up.
“He came out during the evening and off-hours to protect the perishables and ensure they were still good,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Sebastionelli, the officer in charge at the food bank. “He went above and beyond.”
Fires also left families in Eastern Washington without a critical supply of water. Caught between the Cold Spring and Pearl Hill fires, all roads to the small town of Bridgeport were cut off. In addition, the fires damaged the town’s water source, leaving families without potable water. When roads reopened, one of the first vehicles through the burnt landscape contained Guard members working food bank missions in north-central Washington.
“Our Guardsmen brought 11 pallets of water and food,” said 1st Lt. Reese Cousins, the officer in charge of the food bank mission in the area. “The town needed supplies, and the crew jumped at the chance to help.”
Since the start of the COVID pandemic, food banks across the state have seen a growing need for the areas they serve, with an increase of nearly 70 percent at the Bonney Lake Food Bank since April. More than 500 members of the Guard have supported food bank operations statewide. And Crnich credits the Guard for not only helping the food bank in Bonney Lake get through the busy days but also building a system for future success.
“We couldn’t do any of this without the Guard,” said Crnich. “They have come in and updated our processes and have made it possible for all this to happen.”
While Crnich happened to have a connection to the Washington National Guard, Brig. Gen. Dan Dent is confident it wasn’t needed to get help to Bonney Lake.
“This right here is the story of the Guard, coming into a place and saying, How can we help, what can we do to make this better?' ” said Dent. “Our Guard is showing that they are here for our entire state.”