By Army Sgt. Alejandro Smith-Antuna
| June 3, 2020
A Hoosier Guardsmen loads a box of fresh produce into a vehicle for a family in need during a mobile food pantry in support of Gleaners Food Bank at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 23, 2020. This weekend marked the CAP’s three millionth meal distributed nationally. (Photo by Sgt. Alejandro Smith-Antuna)
Yet pit stops of sorts still took place Saturday, May 23.
Hundreds of sedans, minivans, trucks and SUVs stretched out the gates of the famed motor speedway and extended down 16th Street as central Indiana residents made their way through a constantly moving line. Volunteers, moving with the fluidity of race pit-crews, loaded cars as they crept from one station to the next receiving food and supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 100 Hoosier National Guardsmen and women, members of the Civil Air Patrol and other volunteers set up a mobile food pantry to support Gleaners Food Bank to distribute food and supplies feed families in need.
“We could not have done this without the National Guard,” said John Elliott, CEO of Gleaners Good Bank in Indiana. “Without them we would have had to cut our distribution in half, instead we were able to double it. “
Gleaners Food Bank is a charity and mid-sized supply-chain company that receives its food and funding from a mix of sources. The food sources were supplied by retail surplus. Due to the pandemic this came to a near halt, Elliott said. They instead have to spend four times what they were beforehand to recoup supply loss.
The food bank operates primarily on volunteers and is scheduled to open up in June for volunteers to return. And while the supply was strained during the pandemic, the demand increased.
“The need has more than doubled in terms of how many Hoosiers are food insecure as a result of the pandemic,” Elliott said. “We needed any way we could think of to distribute more food by volume to everyone. Pre-COVID, the majority of our workforce was volunteer base.”
Indiana National Guard 1st Lt. Nicole Wurm, the officer overseeing the event, said the goal was to provide 5,000 food packages for local Hoosiers. Each care package was designed to feed a family of four, three meals per day for four days.
“This is a big change from our norm,” Wurm said. “It is good for the soldiers to be out assisting with the needs of the community and being able to see the impact of what they are doing. Our soldiers have stepped into working at different food banks throughout the district to assist in Gleaner operations.”
Volunteers and Guardsmen provided food for approximately 3,600 families the previous weekend at a mobile food pantry at the Indiana State Fair Grounds.