If you need a reminder that we're still in the grips of an unparalleled pandemic, you didn't need to look any further than 2nd Harvest's mass food distribution at the Spokane County Fairgrounds Friday Afternoon.
"There's a lot of people who have lost single or both incomes right now and a lot of those folks are the people that we see visiting our local pantries now," 2nd Harvest's Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Sherry Wallace said.
Food insecurity continues to be a concern in the region and since being called up last April, the National Guard has been helping 2nd Harvest keep up with the increasing demand.
"This is very unprecedented. We've never done anything like this before," Lt. Erin Hagerty said. "As soon as the coronavirus hit, the need skyrocketed and nearly doubled."
Wallace said in 2019, 2nd Harvest distributed 33 million pounds of food. In 2020, they handed out 59 million pounds. Adding another obstacle to the increased demand is COVID restrictions, which prevent the normal amount of volunteers to work in 2nd Harvest's warehouse.
That's where the National Guard comes in.
"The guard is at our facility about 40 hours a week," Wallace said.
During that time, Guard members are packing up the food and getting it ready to ship out to the hundreds of food banks in 2nd Harvest's area.
And at Friday's distribution at the Fairgrounds, it was the Guard doing the heavy lifting. Figuratively and literally.
"We have a freezer box that we're giving away, we have a dry goods box, we have a produce box and then we have bags of apples and potatoes," Lt. Hagerty said as she rattled off the food being given away.
Lt. Hagerty has been in the National Guard since 2013 and although she's been called up previously for fires and flooding, the COVID response is unprecedented.
"This is the longest time I've been activated for any local response, which is incredible and it's amazing to be able to help out with this," Lt. Hagerty proudly said.
While Lt. Hagerty and her fellow Guard members are beginning to tire after nearly a year of their pandemic response, with car after car pulling up to grab some food, Friday's giveaway served as another reminder of the reason behind the vital work they are doing.
"We're still here because we know there's a need and we want to be able to help our local community," Lt. Hagerty said. "That's what we joined the Guard for. We didn't join to go overseas. We joined to help our community."
For the National Guard and 2nd Harvest, the mission to help those experiencing food insecurity will continue on.
"People are still hungry," Wallace said. "We're still sourcing food. We're still distributing food and the Guard is an essential piece of that."
As the need continues, more financial assistance is coming for food banks across Washington as Gov. Inslee signed House Bill 1368 on Friday, earmarking $26 million for food banks and other food programs.
If you missed Friday's distribution, there's usually one not too far away either at a local pantry or through 2nd Harvest's Mobile Market. If you'd like to view a schedule of the Mobile Market, CLICK HERE.
If you'd like to find a food bank near you, CLICK HERE.
Though COVID restrictions are in place, 2nd Harvest still has availability for volunteers. If you'd like to find out more about volunteering, CLICK HERE.
If you'd like to donate money to 2nd Harvest, CLICK HERE.