FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – North Carolina National Guard Soldiers and Airmen worked with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeastern North Carolina to distribute free food at a drive-thru event at the Crown Coliseum on Nov. 24.
The team of 27 Guard members came from multiple units across the state and are part of the 177 Guard members who were activated in September to continue supporting the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the Department of Health and Human Services during their response to COVID-19.
A large-scale distribution like this was not a simple task, and David Griffin, an emergency services administrator for the food bank, said he was thankful for the Guard's support.
"We couldn't do it without the North Carolina National Guard," Griffin said. "Without them, and their expertise in logistics and things of that nature, we couldn't do the job we are able to do."
The Guard members worked with other volunteers to unload trucks, move pallets of food with a forklift, divide produce into boxes, direct traffic, and load food into vehicles.
Although the large event was a challenge, 2nd Lt. Hunter Maynor, assigned to the North Carolina Army National Guard's 236th Brigade Engineering Battalion, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, said he genuinely enjoyed supporting the food bank.
"I just commissioned about two months ago, so this was my first experience ever, and I signed up for this because I knew how important it was," Maynor said. "We live in this community, too. We care about our neighbors, too, and we want to help."
Maynor, who graduated from N.C. State University in May, was born only five minutes from the food distribution site.
"You hear about all the things we do abroad, but I don't think we shine enough spotlight on what the Guard does at home, especially during times of crisis," Maynor said. "This probably means the most to me because I get to help my own community; I was born and raised here."
The event came two days before the Thanksgiving holiday and was the largest food distribution in Cumberland County to date – more than 1,300 families were served in a few hours.
Although the food bank gets food from multiple sources, the 70,000 pounds of food for this event was bought to ensure families could have a Thanksgiving meal.
"We purchased food specifically to make sure we do stuff for the holidays because we understand, at these holiday times, the value of sitting across the table and having a meal with your family," Griffin said. "It's even more important these days when you have all this COVID-19 going, you're afraid, you might not have the resources, so to provide to a family the meals and food they need is important to us."
Each family received a mixed produce box, collard greens, a frozen hen, and items specific to a holiday meal, like cranberry sauce.
In addition to this food distribution, Guard members have worked in the food bank's warehouse, supported 20 other food distributions, delivered over 1,000 meals for Cumberland County students and 1,000 more meals to senior citizens.
Capt. Phanat Senesourinh, with the North Carolina Air National Guard's 156th Airlift Squadron, 145th Airlift Wing, said the team has helped process a total of more than 1.5 million pounds of food through the food bank.
"They do it because they want to do it," Senesourinh said. "They have a passion for it, just to serve in any aspect, regardless if it's for the country or the community."
The North Carolina National Guard began supporting the COVID-19 response on March 6. Members have helped distribute more than 6.3 million food bank meals across the state.