Thirty members of the National Guard are assisting the Northwest Harvest food warehouse in Kent with packing boxes to distribute to food banks in Western Washington.
“They will be there for at least the next couple of weeks,” said Karina Shagren, Washington Military Department communications director, in a Wednesday email. “Guardsmen are helping food banks unload and box items to ensure people who need food assistance are still receiving it.”
The National Guard members started Monday at the Kent warehouse.
Northwest Harvest is a nonprofit food bank distributor operating statewide with a network of 375 food banks served from four warehouses, including one in Kent since 2007.
“Many volunteers that support our area food banks are in the at-risk categories for Covid-19, creating a severe staffing shortfall,” Shagren said. “At the same time, the need for food assistance continues to grow.”
The National Guard is assisting food banks and warehouses across the state, although Shagren said she didn’t have a current list she added the number continues to grow.
Kent Mayor Dana Ralph spoke about the National Guard coming to Kent during her report Tuesday night to the City Council.
“I want residents to know why they are here,” Ralph said. “The Guard is coming to help Northwest Harvest prepare about 7,000 boxes a week and shipping them out to areas in South King county and Central and Southwest Washington.
‘We are very, very grateful for that response. At end of this crisis we are looking at about 2.5 million Washingtonians being food insecure which is a staggering number. …without the help of Northwest Harvest and the National Guard we would not be able to meet that demand.”
Ralph said she had a phone conversation with Northwest Harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds on Saturday to discuss the shortage of volunteers at the Kent warehouse.
“It is mostly staffed by volunteers and a lot of them are elderly so they are seeing a crunch in resources,” Ralph said.
Northwest Harvest reached out to the state Department of Agriculture for response by the National Guard.
Gov. Jay Inslee recently posted on Twitter that the National Guard would be helping with food distribution at food banks and warehouses.
“The Washington National Guard will provide important help to our communities to ensure our critical food banks remain stocked and operational,” Inslee said. “They’re filling an important need and I ask that you welcome them in your communities as they process, package and distribute meals.”
The National Guard is helping out in Eastern Washington at Second Harvest, which distributes over 2 million pounds of free food each month to help people in need in 26 counties in Eastern Washington and North Idaho as it partners with more than 250 neighborhood food banks.