GASSAWAY, W.Va. — West Virginia’s largest food bank found itself in a precarious situation in recent days.
The Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway provides food to shelters, pantries, and hungry individuals in 48 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. The need for their service exploded when much of the state started closing down in recent days and many people found themselves without a job and looking for help.
The demand overwhelmed the operation in Braxton County. Typically volunteers are willing to jump in and provide the manpower needed to do the job. However, with CDC guidelines coupled with the Governor’s Stay at Home order, it wasn’t practical to bring 100 volunteers into the food bank to help out.
“They’re overwhelmed because they can’t get the volunteer help at this time,” said Major Josh Poling of the West Virginia National Guard.
When Governor Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency for the Covid 19 Novel Corona virus pandemic in West Virginia, it freed up the West Virginia National Guard to become involved in various emergency response missions.
Since the declaration, the guard has been active in various operations across the Mountain State. Medical teams have helped in the testing of potentially infected patients. Guard members have helped in food deliveries and distribution of critical supplies to medical facilities in the state. According to Poling, a small detachment of guard members were also assisting the food pantry this week.
“We currently have ten soldiers at the food bank. They started on Monday helping to produce food boxes. which are a 30 day supply of food for families,” Poling said.
Poling noted on Monday, the group helped assemble 2.059 food boxes, 3,434 boxes on Tuesday, and as of this report on Wednesday anticipated assembling more than 3,600 boxes. A small group, spread out effectively in the warehouse, is able to conform with the CDC guidelines for social distancing, but also accomplish the task typically reserved for a much larger group.
“We have our soldiers in an assembly line moving boxes in and out of shipping carriers, making sure the boxes are produced, and getting them out the door to the people,” the Major said.
Poling admitted packing food boxes wasn’t part of the training at boot camp, but also noted the West Virginia National Guard is always thrust into unusual situations.
“We’ve had our experience with various disasters throughout the state with floods, snowstorms, or whatever it may be. We know our role and we know exactly how to help people and it’s great to get out there and help the people of West Virginia in whatever means and fashion we can do so,” he said.