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NEWS | Aug. 25, 2020

NH Food Bank mission ends

By Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston

The New Hampshire National Guard worked its 15th and final mobile food pantry Aug 7.

A team of guardsmen was temporarily assigned to aid the NH Food Bank with sorting, cooking and delivery operations since its COVID-19 relief mission began in April.

They even helped prep the charity’s vegetable garden, digging trenches and raising beds.

“The soldiers loved it,” said Sgt. Maj. Rachael Fleharty-Strevig, NCOIC of Task Force Distribution. “They’re going to miss being able to immediately affect their local community.”

The task force ranged from 15 to 25 citizen Soldiers and Airmen on any given day, spearheading mobile pantry operations across the state.

“It’s something I never thought I’d be able to do,” said Pfc. Nathan Porch of the 744th Forward Support Company. “But here I am, and I’m happy to be doing it.”

Guardsmen staffed drive-thru pantries in Colebrook, Gorham, Loudon, Plymouth, Littleton, Dover, Newport, North Conway, Laconia, Nashua, Concord and Manchester. They delivered more than 430,000 meals, weighing over 500,000 pounds to about 6,400 families at the events.

Eileen Liponis, the food bank’s executive director, expressed concerns over the Guard’s exodus. Her operations typically depend on a pool of older volunteers--a group at higher risk of coronavirus and not nearly as efficient as a military workforce.

“You know, I love my volunteers,” Liponis said. “But it’s not the same. The Soldiers have a mission. They know what they’re doing. They know our operation. They were totally engaged in our mission. These kids get it. They’re feeding hungry people, and they love it.”

Liponis said she never would have been able to meet the demand – which increased 50 percent during the pandemic – without the Guard.

“Having the guard on the floor was fabulous,” she said. “I can’t get 25 volunteers like this.”