Washington Guardsmen answer the call to assist foodbanks across the state

Members of the Washington Army National Guard pack boxes of food at the Food Lifeline temporary site in Seattle, Wash. on April 21, 2020. Members of the Washington Air and Army National Guard are supporting food banks around the state during the COVID-19 pandemic response. (U.S. National Guard photo by Joseph Siemandel)
April 23, 2020

With businesses and restaurants shuttered, the need for food assistance continues to rise. At the same time, those who often volunteer at area foodbanks are advised to stay home.

This has created a critical gap that members of the Washington National Guard are able to fill. Hundreds of Washington Guardsmen are now deployed throughout the state to support their community food banks.

This mission started earlier this month and has become an essential piece to ensuring Washingtonians are getting the food they need to get by during this unprecedented time.

More than 480 Guard members have been activated to more than 40 food banks and food distribution centers in counties throughout the state.

Sgt. Kyle Sprague, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, volunteered for the opportunity to serve at Food Lifeline in Seattle after seeing how the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order was effecting the area.

“When driving through Seattle, you see a lot of boarded up businesses,” said Sprague. “That’s a lot of lost wages. When I saw it, I realized that the community needs help and what better way to, to get out and help an organization like Food Lifeline.”

The Food Lifeline distribution center currently has more than 200 guardsmen helping them process, pack and distribute food and goods to more than 300 food banks across Washington state.

Staff Sgt. Amber Barker, a customer service specialist at the 194th Wing, has been assisting the Nourish food bank in Edgewood, just 30 minutes from her home.

“I saw that there was a need and I put my name on the list because it’s always nice to get out into the community and you don’t always get an opportunity to serve in your community when you have a regular job, a family, other life going on,” said Barker. “It’s a blessing to be able to serve the community. Especially during this time.”

Nourish Pierce County operates nine food banks and supports 19 additional distribution sites in Pierce County. It regularly serves almost 7 percent of the Pierce County population and has seen even more families fed during this pandemic.

The community response from these missions has been immense. Daily social media posts of thanks and in person gratitude shown to guardsmen in these communities have impacted the members working throughout the state.

“You know directly impacting your community,” said Sprague.