National Guard works with local food bank

Michelle Reyes, Staff Reporter

Second Harvest Inland Northwest is a non-profit organization in Spokane. This organization has provided food in the Inland Northwest since 1971. It distributes over two million pounds of free food each month. Partnering with 250 neighborhood food banks and meal centers makes it possible for Second Harvest to feed people each week.

The National Guard partnered with Second Harvest and FISH to hold a Drive-Thru Mobile Pantry Event in Ellensburg. The event was open to the community on May 27.  

Second Harvest Inland Northwest began the Mobile Pantry 14 years ago. It started as an idea to rapidly distribute produce all across their service area. The service area includes 21 counties of eastern Washington and five of northern Idaho, from warehouses in Spokane and Pasco, Drew Meuer, the chief of staff at Second Harvest said. 

John Poyner, the operations manager for the food bank and pantry, said, “Second Harvest contacted us. They’ve been doing mobile pantries all over the Washington eastern part of the state. This was the second one they would be doing with us. They approached us and we are not going to turn down the opportunity to give people free food. We always accept it with open arms.”

The National Guard is a federal activation in response to the coronavirus. The state of Washington has a deployment and about 60 guard members were deployed to Second Harvests’ Spokane facility and between 40 and 50 in Pasco, Meuer said. 

The Guardsmen work alongside staff and volunteers preparing, sorting and boxing the food for distributions at Second Harvest. They assist with food transfer between facilities and help protect public health and safety by ensuring people can social distance inside the warehouse, Meuer said. 

FISH advertised with flyers about the mobile pantry from Second Harvest through its social media. It was also advertised through the local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and health department. 

“I love [the advertisement] being on Facebook, especially Second Harvest being able to get the news out to people easier. It’s very helpful and informative,” Hendershot said.

Poyner said preparation for this event included recruiting volunteers a week ahead of time, and that during the event everyone was wearing masks, gloves and using hand sanitizer when changing gloves. They set up different tents for each type of item. One of the tents covered the refrigerated and frozen foods, and freezer blankets were used to keep the food cold. Those who attended the event stayed in their cars to maintain social distancing. 

“The National Guard had everybody go in a perfect line and they were putting papers in people’s windshields with numbers on them to ensure people got boxes, and we were number 75 at noon,” Hendershot said. “It was very efficient. They had two lines and kept it going; we weren’t in line for more than five minutes.” 

When the Second Harvest team arrived at FISH, they quickly set up stations for each product. Once the cars pulled up, each volunteer was in charge of handing out an item from their station. While one volunteer grabbed a box with vegetables or fresh produce and put it in a car, another grabbed bacon and frozen hashbrowns, and another the bread, that way the lines kept moving, Poyner said.

Meuer said they served about 300 cars, and they came prepared to serve 300 families. 

“Emergency food systems in our region are really straining to cope with the surge and demand at all levels, and I think organizations like FISH food bank and Second Harvest are resilient and here to serve for the long haul. We want to make sure folks have their basic needs met this week and also in the months to come,” Meuer said.