W.Va. Guard Assists Agencies and Volunteer Organizations Feeding Hungry West Virginians

By Edwin L. Wriston | March 26, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —

Soldiers from the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) are actively assisting agencies and volunteers around West Virginia with meal preparation, delivery, and logistics operational support during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

In Gassaway, West Virginia, 10 members of the Guard are assisting operations of the Mountaineer Food Bank. The Mountaineer Food Bank has approximately 40 full time employees along with multiple volunteers, and sources food to 48 out of 55 counties in West Virginia. With the threat of the Covid-19 virus spreading, the organization is currently unable to accept volunteers and was quickly becoming overwhelmed. The Guard was asked to fill this void and quickly stepped in, making an immediate positive impact.

Each day, the Soldiers are tasked to build approximately 1,000 boxes of emergency food supplies, comprised of enough food to support a family of four for up to 30 days. The Soldiers are also assisting in building food boxes for children and elderly and for those with special needs or disabilities that participate in the Safe at Home West Virginia program run by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. 

“The National Guard is here, and they are phenomenal,” stated Chad Morrison, Executive Director of the Mountaineer Food Bank. “They have been working nonstop this week. It means a lot to have their support, because they’re not only supporting Mountaineer Food Bank, but they are also supporting our West Virginia communities.  They are making sure that we have the boxes we need to feed hungry families.”

When asked what it means to be helping out the residents of West Virginia, Spc. Kendall Harris of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was quick to respond.

“It means everything,” he replied. “This is exactly why I joined the [National] Guard, to do things like this and help people in a time of need. It means the world to me that I can do that during such an important time of need across our state.”

In Lewisburg, West Virginia, eight Soldiers are assisting the Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery Committee in preparing meals for school-age students throughout Greenbrier County, West Virginia.

The Soldiers, all from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment, are working with dozens of volunteers in packaging and delivering meals to children around the county and will continue to do so for the duration of the outbreak.

On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the Soldiers helped volunteers prepare more than 3,600 five-day multi-packs of food that meet supplemental child nutrition guidelines for distribution, equaling approximately 18,000 meals.

The Soldiers are not only helping to prepare and package the meals, but also providing manpower for the unloading of supply trucks, loading of delivery trucks, and actual delivery of the finalized meals to the public. Additionally, Soldiers are assisting with the design and establishment of delivery routes and distribution points throughout the county.

Greenbrier County has 66 school bus routes that cross the county daily during the school year. Normally during a disaster-level event where schools are closed and meal delivery is a priority to keep children fed, the school buses would play an important role. However, during this particular pandemic, most of the county school bus drivers are in the “high-risk” age group susceptible to COVID-19 infection, so buses are not available for deliveries. That means new plans and distribution efforts are needed.

The massive logistics challenge is something the Guard is uniquely suited for, stated Kayla M. McCoy, Program Coordinator and Director of Development for the Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee. And she couldn’t be happier for their presence.

“During the massive floods that impacted Greenbrier County in 2016, the Guard provided such comfort and strength to our community. When I realized what we are facing during this extended response effort, and knowing the challenges ahead, I instantly made the decision to request the Guard,” she stated. “They are trusted in our community, and they provide a sense of comfort especially in rural communities, letting people know they are not forgotten.”

“I tell everyone, under every National Guard uniform is a West Virginian that wants to help their state,” she added.

The Guardsmen agree.

“Our mission, simply put, is to help feed children,” said Spc. Carl Peyatt III. “Our job is to just hammer to it and get the meals to where they are needed and to do the greatest good for the greatest number we can. I am extremely proud of our efforts here to support our local partners.”

For West Virginia State University Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet Aaron Lewis, the mission is personal.

“I grew up in an area where a lot of kids, their only source of food through the week was from school, so this really hits home for me,” he stated. “I see the importance of the mission of the Guard supplementing and augmenting civilian volunteer efforts.”

Currently, more than 120 volunteers are working in Greenbrier County to make the meal delivery program a success. However, as the days wear on, volunteer fatigue and volunteer availability may dwindle as days turn into weeks and possibly months of operations. This is another area where the Guard can play an important role.

“To me the National Guard are such good workers and helpers,” added McCoy. “They have the logistical skillset, the drive and the stamina to sustain operations for the long-haul and push towards success. They are a truly great asset, and I would love to have dozens more!”

The West Virginia National Guard continues to support COVID-19 response efforts across the State of West Virginia including providing first responders and medical staff proper personal protective equipment (PPE) training, assisting medical personnel administer testing at various locations, assisting state partner agencies with hotline manpower support, meal preparation and delivery, and the distribution of medical supplies to hospitals, clinics, and local health departments around the state as part of a whole-of-government response effort.