Three National Guard personnel help out at the Santa Barbara Foodbank on Monday.
Three National Guard personnel help out at the Santa Barbara Foodbank on Monday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The nonprofit Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is getting assistance from 20 members of the California National Guard to help with food distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting last Friday, the guard members were deployed in Santa Barbara County and began providing skilled labor support to meet the Foodbank’s increased operational volunteer and staffing needs. 

The men and women consists of California Air National Guard personnel from the 146th Airlift Wing’s Medical Group stationed at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Ventura County.

“California is our home,” U.S. Air National Guard Lt. Col. Adam Goldstone said. “We are here to help and want to help…We are here to support the Foodbank in any way that they need.”

Six personnel were moving large boxes of fruits and vegetables, and assembling a variety of foods for distribution at the Foodbank’s permanent Santa Barbara warehouse on Hollister Avenue on Monday morning.

Members of the National Guard operated a cardboard crushing machine, sorted through heads of lettuce used to produce compost, and moved cartons of oranges and lemons for distribution.

They will help again Tuesday.

A National Guard member hauls oranges at the Santa Barbara Foodbank on Monday.

A National Guard member hauls oranges at the Santa Barbara Foodbank on Monday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Fourteen members of the National Guard are assisting at the Foodbank’s permanent Santa Maria facility along Foster Road, Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin said.

“Having the National Guard here — who we can rely on, and they are going to show up every day has been huge for us,” Talkin said. “We have the National Guard working at both warehouses.”

Under the supervision of Foodbank staff and partner organizations, the National Guard also will serve in the two additional temporary warehouses, at emergency food distribution sites and assist with senior home food deliveries.

“Realistically, this (COVID-19) is going to go on for longer,” Talkin said, later adding, “We are going to need more than our initial deployment.”

The guard members will help for two weeks, and the number of personnel and length of deployment will be reassessed as the coronavirus crisis unfolds, according to Foodbank spokeswoman Judith Smith-Meyer.

Hand washing, sanitizer, disposable gloves and social distancing measures were executed during all Foodbank interactions, Smith-Meyer added.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the deployment of National Guard members to “provide short-term food security to isolated and vulnerable Californians” amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a news release from Newsom’s press office.

“Food banks provide a critical lifeline for families, and are needed now more than ever,” Newsom said in a statement. “Families across our state are suddenly losing work, and millions of Californians most vulnerable to COVID-19 are staying home to protect their health and the health of others.”

Many food banks in the state are facing a shortage of volunteers, impacting logistical and local infrastructure for food distribution, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

“We are not afraid to ask for help,” Talkin said.

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County serves as the county’s leading distributor of food to those in need, and works with more than 300 nonprofits and more than 1,500 volunteers.

Last year, the organization distributed some 10 million pounds of food, and nearly half of which was fresh produce, according to the Foodbank.

In Santa Barbara County, one in four individuals receive food support from the Foodbank, which equates to more than 190,000 unduplicated people and 40 percent of whom are children, according to the organization.

The Foodbank has at least doubled the number of food it provides to community members amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s still in the early days,” Talkin said. “We are seeing signs that it will just keep increasing, so as we look at the next three or six months — the only question for us is, ‘is the need going to go up three times or four times?’”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.