COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. – Food banks have reached out to the Michigan Guard for assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the increased demand for food and a shortage of volunteers.
“I was really glad that the government seemed to recognize that this was going to be a need,” said Shay Kovacs, programs manager for Feeding America West Michigan. “We needed our food banks in our state to run at capacity, and we knew the need was going to increase. Instead of waiting for there to be a problem and retroactively try and fix it, they proactively activated people that are more than qualified to help.”
Earlier in the year, the food bank didn’t know how it was going to meet the increased demand for its service. The food bank relies heavily on volunteers, and many of the volunteers fall into the high-risk category for the virus.
“We’re excited that we are still able to distribute food and are still able to feed the community despite everything,” said Francesca Almonte, reclamation coordinator for Feeding America West Michigan. “I think that during the winter months, we’ll be relying even more heavily on the National Guard.”
“I never realized how complex a food bank is to actually run,” said U.S. Army Cpl. Davon Taylor, assigned to Task Force Spartan, Michigan Army National Guard.
Feeding America West Michigan supports 40 of Michigan's 83 counties, distributing food to more than 900 smaller groups, like food pantries and churches, which redistribute food at local levels.
“People are still hungry, and there is still a need to be met regardless of a pandemic going on, and we have to meet that need and be safe,” said Almonte.
Taylor, who has volunteered at homeless shelters, was unaware of what food banks accomplish.
“I volunteer on the civilian side of my life,” said Taylor. “It is different to do it in the military during this when it seems like everything is going crazy, but it’s great that everybody is coming together to make a difference.”
Food bank volunteers have been allowed back at the food bank and are working alongside the Soldiers since safety procedures have been implemented. Many of the volunteers are veterans themselves and talk to the new generation of service members. They also see how the Soldiers are giving their all to the task at hand.
“The Soldiers really care about the people that we serve, and that is evident in how hard they work,” said Kovacs. “You get the feeling when they’re working here that this is not just an assignment; it’s important to them to do a good job because they care about the community they serve.”
Since the spring, the need for help at the food bank has multiplied. Feeding America West Michigan wants people to know that it is there for them. With the help of the Michigan National Guard, it will be able to get food to pantries, churches, and other organizations that can redistribute to those in need.
“This is an interesting time,” said Kovacs. “We have seen a lot of people who are new to this food assistance program, people who never needed help before, need it now for the first time and don’t know where to go.”