By Capt. David Boyles
128th Support Battalion
Seventeen Pennsylvania National Guard members were activated by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency on Thursday, April 2 to support a food bank in Pittsburgh.
The soldiers, all members of the 128th Brigade Support Battalion, are assisting with the mass packing of emergency food boxes, large scale drive-up distributions and general operations at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
"I work at a high school so when the high school closed, I'm out of a job. So to come out here to help the community get the food, I know a lot of people are out of food right now because they are also out of work," said 2nd Lt. Kristina Lewis. "It means so much to be able to help my community since I am from Pittsburgh."
"Everyone was very supportive," said Staff Sgt. Raymond Pritchard. "When we got the call [from their unit] we literally showed up the very next morning."
The food bank has experienced a surge in need due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, said Brian Gulish, vice president of marketing and communications.
“In total, through our warehouse, we distributed one million more pounds of food in March 2020 than we did in March 2019,” Gulish said. “Additionally, we have had a 543 percent increase of people coming to the food bank directly for food. At the current time, our inventory is still strong, but that may change over the coming weeks. The demand is truly unprecedented. We have spent $1.7 million in the past two months on food purchases, compared to $376,000 in that same timeframe in 2019.”
The guard members are part of Pennsylvania Task Force West, an emergency response support network that supports 24 western Pennsylvania counties. The task force consists of emergency management centers staffed with Pennsylvania National Guard service members.
The Pennsylvania National Guard continues to work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and local officials to plan, coordinate and support COVID-19 precautionary and response efforts.
The PNG has provided support in a myriad of disasters and emergencies for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and across the nation. In other regions of Pennsylvania, to date, PNG members have conducted the transportation mission with quarantined cruise ship passengers, supported a FEMA medical station and are still supporting a community testing site.