Social distancing requirements have made it difficult for businesses and programs to operate, especially meal packaging services that rely on volunteers. With assistance from the Kansas Division of Emergency Management and the Kansas National Guard, those difficulties are being met with the needed support.
Since late April, about 40 to 50 Kansas Guardsmen have shown up to Leawood, Kansas, to work in one of seven meal packaging lines. Guardsmen pack, weigh, seal and box food bags that include menu items like mac and cheese, Spanish rice and minestrone soup. The food is then put into seven-meal “pantry packs” in another line at the building, stacked on pallets to be distributed at food pantries throughout Kansas.
The Guardsmen have packaged over four million meals, and are currently working on the fifth million for food-insecure Kansans.
“The Outreach program has provided us with meals that have been purchased through KDEM,” Capt. Michael Ludwick, commander, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery said. “We are currently working towards five million meals.”
The assembly line process for constructing the meals requires a team of four to six Guardsmen at each table. Each team is responsible for packaging one of the seven meal varieties. Two Guardsmen scoop raw product into funnels while a third holds the meal bag, which is prepackaged with the specified meal seasoning. Another team member weighs the bag to ensure it is within the weight tolerance level. The meal is then vacuum sealed and placed in a box to be packed up.
“This mission is helping a lot,” said Spc. Gabriella Guzman, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery, Kansas Army Guardsmen combat medic. “Because of COVID-19, there are a lot of people unemployed, especially with families that need food.”
The community is directly impacted by the number of meals that are packaged and sent to their food pantries.
“We try to pack roughly 12 pallets a day, which is over 2,000 pantry packs,” said Tech. Sgt. Douglas Fisher, 127th Weather Flight, Kansas Air National Guardsmen. “This is just part of what they will receive at the food pantries they visit. The rest includes fresh produce and dairy products.”
Many Guardsmen joined the military with hopes of helping their community, and the million meals mission provides that opportunity to them. It has allowed them to work in an environment that creates a bigger picture of supporting their communities at the lowest level.
“This is a unique mission,” Ludwick added. “It’s a joint venture with both the Air and Army Guard. We have a lot of unique talents and this is a great opportunity for them to come together, learn from each other, build efficiencies and support the surrounding communities.”