The National Guard is often turned to in times of disaster and crisis.
In fact, every state has already called on their state’s National Guard citizen-soldiers in some capacity to help with response to the coronavirus pandemic.
This week the National Guard has assumed an important new role in Delaware’s crisis effort – that of food provider to needy families.
Two days each week, members of the National Guard are bringing food to neighborhoods across the entire Appoquinimink School District – to families unable to take part in the meal program offered at a local middle school in Middletown.
Louis L. Redding Middle serves as the sole, central location where families can pick up free lunches while kids remain home from school. However, some families have a difficult time getting to that site to pick up meals.
So the school district decided an emergency food distribution program was in order. School superintendent Matt Burrows says that because the district is without its own school buses or drivers (the district contracts for these services), “reaching far-flung communities has been a real test of resourcefulness.”
Adding to the challenge, schools often rely on older people to work in food service and as bus drivers, but those are the same individuals who are at a heightened risk of contracting the virus. That creates a potential supply problem for schools.
“That’s why we asked the National Guard to provide additional resources – manpower and transportation – to help us make sure families have the nutritional support they need to make it through this crisis,” Burrows said.
School district social workers helped identify neighborhoods where at least half the population of school-aged children qualify for the free/reduced meal program. Families were notified by phone and email on Sunday afternoon.
Beginning this week National Guardsmen made lunch stops at six neighborhoods throughout the district. Wearing protective gear and traveling in camouflaged vehicles, the citizen-soldiers popped open the back of their army truck, pulled out tables and yard signs, placed bags of food in the shade, and waited to greet families who showed up for theirs.
“I am so very appreciative of this. It saves me time, gas and effort. And it lets me stay home with my two young children,” said Pete Stelling, a single parent who lives in Middletown.
The short-term deployment will involve three to four Guard members. Twice a week they’ll pick up supplies prepared by the district’s school nutrition staff. On Mondays, they’ll bring two lunches and two breakfasts. On Wednesdays, they’ll deliver three lunches and three breakfasts to get kids through the remainder of the week.
“With businesses shuttered, jobs have disappeared – and so has the income families need to put food on the table. Our free meal program provides a critical lifeline for these food-insecure families,” explained Superintendent Matt Burrows.
This week, members of the Delaware National Guard served 250 children. But next week they expect to deliver to 1,000 children or more.
Sergeant Major McDaniel of the 72 Troop Command says this is one of his most unusual assignments. But he and the others are more than happy to play their part in keeping children fed and giving families hope.
“We do a lot of state of emergencies, we do snowstorms, hurricanes and disaster relief. But this is a new type of disaster,” said Sergeant McDaniel. “It’s very heartwarming to be able to help children and families. It’s something that needs to be done, and I’m personally appreciative to be able to come out and help families,” he said.
Moved by the support of the National Guard in bringing meals to his family, Stelling thanked each of them. “I’m so appreciative of your service to our country. You have no idea how much I appreciate it — not just through this, but all year round, year after year.”