Guard steps in to assist Mesa food bank The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Guard steps in to assist Mesa food bank

Guard steps in to assist Mesa food bank
Mesa
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By Mike Phillips
Tribune Contributor

The human cost of Covid-19 and the humanitarian response were both evident in Mesa last week.

Mesa-based United Food Bank saw demand for assistance roughly quadruple the past two weeks. Meanwhile, food donations are down and 95 percent of its corporate groups canceled their volunteer shifts because of the virus threat.

Into that breach stepped the Arizona National Guard.

On Thursday, about 20 members of the Guard from several units across the state were at United’s distribution center filling plastic bags with various foodstuffs and placing them in large cardboard delivery bins.

It was the latest response from the Guard, mobilized by Gov. Doug Ducey to assist Arizona food banks and supermarkets keep up with an escalating demand for goods.

“We’re not here to compete with the private sector,” said Arizona Guard spokesman David Nunn. “We’re here to support the logistical mission of getting food and goods from the warehouses to the distribution points. There’s plenty of goods. They just need to be delivered to the right place.”

As classic rock music thumped from speakers, Guard members and civilian volunteers prepared 1,200 food bags in 40 minutes.

One of those volunteers was Army National Guard Specialist Zachary DeHart from Gilbert. Sweat dripped from his brow after the last bags were filled and he had a chance to take a breather.

“Happy to be here,” DeHart said. “Any time the community calls, we will come.”

In civilian life, DeHart is a well digger with the Chandler-based Layne Christensen Company. He’s also a member of the Guard’s 257th Engineer Detachment based in Florence. This isn’t the first time he’s been activated to assist with a state emergency.

Three years ago he deployed to Nogales to help that city battle severe flooding. His team used heavy equipment to build berms and other structures to protect property and hold back rising waters.

“I’ll volunteer to go anywhere to serve because this is my state and this is my community,” he said. “We’re here to do anything we can to help.”

Nunn, the Guard spokesman, said although units have been activated it’s up to individual Guard members to decide if they want to deploy. The idea is not to divert critical skills from the civilian workforce.

“We’re not going to ask a nurse to leave that job and deploy,” he said.

The food bags DeHart and his team helped assemble were scheduled to be transported Friday to the Mesa Convention Center, where they will be hand delivered to those in need.

“If someone presents as hungry, they are going to leave with food,” said United Food Bank’s President and CEO Dave Richins.          

Richins said he’s not sure what to expect in the weeks ahead as the virus spreads and laid off and furloughed workers burn through their savings to make ends meet.

He’s hoping food donations will increase as word spreads about the need. And he’s thankful volunteers like the activated Arizona National Guard members stand ready to assist.

“If people need us, we will be here,” he said.  γ

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