Airmen Providing Support, One Box At A Time

Photo By Staff Sgt. George Solis | Tech. Sgt. Christian Chavez-Mejia sorts donated non-perishable items at a Second Harvest food bank in San Jose, Calif. April 18,2020. Chavez-Mejia is part of a 30-person team from the 144th Fighter Wing providing assistance with the day-to-day operations of sorting and packing non-perishable food items that will be distributed to communities in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.  see less | View Image Page



Story by Staff Sgt. George Solis 

144th Fighter Wing Public Affairs 

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Second Harvest of Silicon Valley serves the cities of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties by ensuring that anyone who needs a healthy meal can get one. Those needs have grown significantly during California’s shelter-in-place order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year we provided 69-million pounds of food to the community, the equivalent to 55-million meals,” said Leslie Bacho, Second Harvest of Silicon Valley’s chief executive officer, “Already in March, our food distribution was up 25%. In the first two weeks of April, we’ve distributed 50% more food than the prior year. So, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in need.”

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis the South Bay food bank relied on volunteers to sort and organize food donations. Second Harvest would then set up distribution sites like farmers’ markets where clients could choose their food, but that distribution model had to change in light of the current health crisis.

“As soon as the shelter in place order went into place, we saw massive volunteer cancelations,” Bacho explains, “The other thing is, everything we’re doing is much more labor intensive now because we’re trying to reduce touches at our sites…we’re boxing everything at our facility.”

To offset the missing manpower and to meet the ever growing need for food distribution, Second Harvest called upon the California National Guard to assist with their day-to-day operations.

A 30-person team from the 144th Fighter Wing is providing support by working at Second Harvest’s brand new dry goods storage facility.

“Going into this warehouse, there was nothing…when we got here, it was a blank canvas,” said Master Sgt. Sophia Rodriguez, who served as the warehouse operations manager.” She ended up building a logistics network within the building to meet the task of packing food boxes.

Rodriguez, who is a traditional guardsman and works as an equal opportunity advisor at the 144th FW, is also a warehouse manager of a 1.2-million square foot distribution facility for a popular outdoor recreation product company. According to Rodriguez “it’s second nature” to apply her warehouse management and strategy skill set to this humanitarian mission.

“We’ve come in, set up teams, and got everyone ready to work as soon as they came in. They understand what is expected, and we’ve given them clear guidelines,” Rodriguez added, “As a result, we’re feeding thousands of people in this area…Everything we’re making goes directly out.”

Along with the Airmen from the 144th FW, there are an additional 70 National Guardsmen assisting Second Harvest across two other sites. Initially, Second Harvest was making a few thousand boxes a day. With the National Guard’s help, Second Harvest is now making 15-thousand boxes a day, fulfilling their mission: ensuring that anyone who needs a healthy meal can get one.

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