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News | June 29, 2020

Team of NH guardsmen entrenched at state food bank

By Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston

The New Hampshire National Guard helped distribute more than 20,000 pounds of dry goods, frozen meat, milk and produce at its most recent mobile pantry June 26 in Manchester.

The event was the latest collaboration between the New Hampshire Food Bank and the guard to combat the COVID-19 health crisis.

“We estimate about one in seven people in New Hampshire are food insecure, given the current unemployment statistics,” said Nancy Mellitt, director of development at the food bank. “It makes it more important that the pantry is mobile.”

Beginning around noon, hundreds of customers lined up in their vehicles at a spacious commercial lot on Island Pond Road. A team of 24 guardsmen spent nearly three hours loading each one with approximately a week’s worth of food, weighing approximately 50 pounds.

“It’s been a fantastic relationship,” Mellitt said of her new military staff. “They’ve been an incredible asset to us. They’re very regimented and hard working.”

The food bank typically depends heavily on a staff of older adult volunteers—an age group at higher risk for COVID-19, explained Mellitt. So operations were redirected through a team of citizen-soldiers placed on active duty to help sort, cook and deliver food at cities and towns across the state.

That was about three months ago. Management has since grown completely dependent on its new labor force and the military efficiency with which duties are performed.

“They came in, and they’re very organized,” said Mystyna Shappy, agency relations manager. “They’ve been amazing.”

Soldiers assigned to the mission, like Spc. Nelson Marwanga of the 372nd Signal Company, are pleased to be serving the citizens of New Hampshire during this national health crisis.

“We get to actually help the community, which is what we signed up for, obviously,” Marwanga.

The food bank is scheduled to deploy the mobile food pantry to Concord, Laconia and Manchester in July, Mellitt said. More information can be found on their website, https://www.nhfoodbank.org.