CA Guardsmen come full circle in food distribution

California Army National Guardsman Spc. James Franks of the 233rd Engineer Detachment (Fire Truck), 115th Regional Support Group, moves vehicles forward April 15 at Encina High School, Sacramento, during a special food bank operation. The meals were packed earlier in the week by Cal Guardsmen, who overall have assisted packing more than 4 million meals since Gov. Gavin Newsom activated the National Guard mid-March. (Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Being on the “front lines” in this COVID-19 battle secured the commitment of these California Army National Guardsmen.

Nearly a dozen Soldiers under the 115th Regional Support Group got to see their efforts in full stride April 15 at Encina High School, where they played a role in a special food distribution sponsored by the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. For weeks these Soldiers had been sorting, inventorying, packing and palletizing perishable and non-perishable food inside the food bank’s mammoth facility. Now they were outdoors, witnessing their work being handed to the community, as the Soldiers directed traffic and provided backup security.

“Now they’ve come full-circle in seeing where all their hard work, after so many weeks, is going,” said Jeremiah Rhine, senior vice president of business operations and finance, Sacramento Food Bank. “We’re grateful for the Soldiers for all they’ve done. They’ve done way more than what we asked. But right here, this is what it’s all about, serving the community in these hard times.”

The food bank prepped enough meals for about 1,000 families in this eastern part of Sacramento. The Guardsmen assisted setting up the “snake route” through the school’s parking lot prior to the crowd’s arrival.

The Guardsmen’s presence assisted Sacramento’s law enforcement in maintaining order, especially since some officers were handing out food.

“They’re directing traffic and they’re also providing a sense of security just by being here,” a Sacramento officer said. “The food bank is handing out a thousand meals. That’s a lot of interaction with the community. When the people see police and National Guard in the vicinity, they know this is going to be a safe event.”

Since mid-March, Cal Guard has assisted more than a dozen food banks with packing 6.3 million-plus meals, with the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services being the first to engage the National Guard following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s activation of the reserve component. This particular food outlet served approximately 150,000 meals a month prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The significance of this mission is we can actually see the families that all the food is going to,” said Sgt. Dimas Velasquez of the 233rd Engineer Detachment (Fire Truck), 115th Regional Support Group. “We’ve been working really hard, long hours, packing up the food and boxing it up not only for this site, but for others. To pack up the food, then pass it out to the families and having the families say Thank You. That means a lot to us.”

The day’s main mission was to assure proper flow of traffic as hundreds of vehicles patiently waited for food donations. Several drivers took the opportunity to thank the Guardsmen for their service.

“The mission today was to help the Sacramento Food Bank pass out food to a thousand families,” added Velasquez. “The Soldiers appreciated all the Thank You’s they got from the community.”