National Guard helps fill gaps at food banks

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As COVID-19 cases soar, West Michigan food banks say they’ve seen a correlating increase in the number of food insecure families.

Feeding America West Michigan reports a 235% increase in food need in the last two weeks.

“We’ve seen our distribution requirements go up incredibly high. In fact, in the last week or two, we’ve had nearly double the amount of food we’d normally do,” CEO Kenneth Estelle said. 

Estelle says at the same time, many of their volunteers, who are senior citizens, are now staying at home to protect their own health, leaving the food bank with a volunteer shortage. In order to fill the need, the food bank is now working with the National Guard. 

“We train and prepare for pretty much anything,” 2nd Lt. Hunter Davidson said as he stood in the Comstock Park warehouse. “Whether it’s handling floods or handling hurricanes down south or even just handing out food at the food pantry, we’re always there. We’re always ready.”

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Davidson and 10 other members of the National Guard will be at the West Michigan facility for the next three weeks sorting food, packing boxes and helping families get what they need at mobile food pantries. There will also be soldiers at food banks in Ann Arbor and Flint. 

“Some of the soldiers I know live in this community, so they’re directly helping their neighbors — Michiganders helping Michiganders,” Davidson said. “We’re very excited to be here and help in anyway that we can and we know this food is much needed by the people in the community and we’re proud to be able to put it together for them.”

The food bank says as the coronavirus pandemic continues, they’ll need the help now more than ever. They say they fear things are going to get even more difficult in the coming weeks, as food banks begin to compete with grocery stores to keep stock. 

“One of my concerns is that, if this level of activity continues and just the nature of what we’re dealing with nationwide, we are definitely going to be struggling to keep up with food,” Estelle said. 

Both the organization and the National Guard say they’re committed to doing what they can to help the families who need them.

The National Guard partnering with Feeding America West Michigan. (March 31, 2020)

“If you’re feeling alone at home and (thinking) what am I going to do? Understand that there’s a lot of organizations that are trying to help,” Estelle added.

Feeding America West Michigan will host a mobile food pantry at Woodland Mall in Kentwood on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Families who attend can expect to receive a 25 pound box of food, including canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables. 

If your family is in need of food, you can visit the organization‘s website for more information on upcoming food distribution events or call 211. 

If you’d like to help the food bank feed local families, they are encouraging monetary donations. They say currently they are not asking for food donations or new volunteers due to health risks amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

More information on how to donate, can be found online.