National Guard Lends a Hand at Second Harvest

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Captain Lauren Meyer chuckled when asked about concerns that the Ohio National Guard was taking control of the state.

“There is no martial law being invoked in the state of Ohio,” Meyer said with a smile.

Around 9 a.m. Monday, the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley was filled with men and women in military uniforms. The Ohio National Guard, led by Meyer, began assisting the food bank with day-to-day operations due to the strains brought by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The National Guard is expected to be at the food bank for 30 days. However, Meyer said the soldiers could stay longer if Gov. Mike DeWine deems it necessary. 

On Wednesday, DeWine announced the deployment of the National Guard to assist food banks across the state. Approximately 120 soldiers have been activated throughout northeastern Ohio to serve in Mahoning, Summit, Lorain and Cuyahoga Counties. Overall, soldiers were sent to 12 food banks.

The Second Harvest Food Bank, which normally has 12 volunteers daily, had 20 National Guard soldiers bagging fruit, packing canned goods and breaking down boxes.

The soldiers in the facility were split into two groups: canned goods and fruit. Each group operated like an assembly line. Someone unpacked the product, others filled the boxes or bags and someone prepared the containers for shipment. A second group went with drivers to help collect and deliver the food.

The food was procured from local grocery stores and warehouses. After they were received, the food was packed and distributed by guard soldiers and volunteers to food pantries and private residences.

“We’re getting a lot of work done,” said Mike Iberis, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley. “Many of [the soldiers] are local and they just committed to making a more effective distribution and helping us do what we do on a daily basis.”

Half the soldiers were from the Youngstown area. Of the 20, 16 members are stationed at the Youngstown Armory. Meyer says some of the soldiers were recently laid off due to statewide precautions. Those enlisted without a job are currently receiving pay from the National Guard.

“They’re getting to possibly help out family and friends that may be in need,” Meyer said. “Or maybe their own family for that matter.”

Iberis said the food bank is well stocked, but the situation is too fluid to make any long-term predictions. He added that the food bank is in constant communication with its food pantries and is aware of their needs.

“It’s really, really hard to speculate or plan more than a day or two in advance, and even then, we found ourselves having to change in the last week or so,” Iberis said.

Meyer says it was the first time she had ever been deployed on a statewide mission and the first time she ever worked in a food bank. Her largest operation came in 2014 to assist with water purification and distribution during an algae bloom in Toledo.

“I know I speak for myself and everyone included that is here, they all volunteered to come be on this duty and help the local community out,” Meyer said. “I know it’s a good sense of pride to be able to do that. And that’s our main goal, to help as many people as possible.”

Pictured: Members of the National Guard were deployed Monday to assist 12 Ohio food banks, including Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.