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National Guard Troops Provide Much-Needed Help At Bay Area Food Bank

FAIRFIELD (KPIX 5) -- The first deployment of the California National Guard is underway, with one group of soldiers arriving in Fairfield Wednesday to help with what could become a vital humanitarian mission.

Since the shelter in place began, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has had trouble getting the volunteers the organization needs to operate.  But on Wednesday morning, just like in the movies, the cavalry arrived.

A group from San Francisco's 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion bagged produce, unloaded pallets and filled 1,000 boxes in less than three hours time.

"Our regular volunteers are really good, but when you get 30 soldiers together in an assembly line, you get an efficiency that just really flows through," said food bank President and CEO Joel Sjostrom. "So our volunteers are fabulous; the National Guard, I've got to say, they're just a little faster."

"I mean, the people who work here were pretty impressed with how fast we were going," said Sgt. Emily Lamontagne. "And, honestly, it was pretty fun."

Fun maybe, but the mission is deadly serious. The boxes being filled were labeled "supplemental" because they are meant to fill a demand the food bank hasn't seen before. With so many people suddenly out of work, there is a growing concern about the ability to get locals the food their families may need.

Food banks have suddenly become :mission critical" in maintaining basic social stability.

"We knew that it was very important for California to secure the food distribution sites and the warehouses," said commanding officer Lt. Col. Mark Correa. "We knew that's going to be a critical point, because as soon as people don't get the commodities they need, it's going to create more problems. And we wanted to get out in front."

Food banks say they still need the public to volunteer. The Guard's efforts in Fairfield were to increase the food supply, but that's in addition to the nearly 180,000 people the food bank already serves. No one knows how much more food will be required when people who have never needed help before come calling.

And this is happening as panic buying is already taxing the Bay Area's food banks' normal supply sources. Sjostrom says the Contra Costa-Solano Food Bank needs a huge influx of cash fast.

"We're doing everything we can to bring more food into the communities," he said. "What that is going to look like as we move forward? Probably inventory supply is my greatest concern. Can we purchase enough food to keep up with the growing demand?"

Those who are lucky enough to still be working will need to help support those who aren't. And it is places like the food bank where that help is going to be most important.

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