BONNEY LAKE, Wash.—Members of the Washington Air National Guard’s 194th Wing are working alongside Army Guard members serving their neighbors in need during the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting operations at the Bonney Lake Food Bank. It’s one among many food bank locations around the state where the Washington National Guard continues to serve. Altogether, Guard members have taken part in processing, packaging, and distributing more than 45 million pounds of food.
“The Guard has played such an integral role,” said Stacey Crnich, director of the Bonney Lake Food Bank, who began her job in March, not long after Gov. Jay Inslee declared an emergency in Washington State. Early on during the pandemic, she instituted a delivery model to keep up with the growing need and maintain health standards, she said. At first, the food bank was overwhelmed, she said.
“The Guard showed up a week and a half into our delivery model and changed everything,” said Crnich. “We’ve been able to leverage resources and leverage people.” Route delivery times decreased dramatically, she said.
Crnich has seen the number of families she serves grow from 170 to more than 600 every two weeks, she said. Guard members have allowed Crnich and her team to keep up with the growing demand, she said.
Many of the Guard members serving in Bonney Lake live in the area, said Army Guard 2nd Lt. Mike Sebastionelli, the officer in charge of the food bank mission in Bonney Lake. “People join the Guard to help their community,” said Sebastionelli. Guard members at the Bonney Lake Food Bank, he said, “are making an impact on this area.”
“We are helping people who are hit by the impacts to the economy,” said Master Sgt. James Moats, a member of the Washington Air National Guard’s 116th Weather Flight, who started work at the Bonney Lake Food Bank in August after two weeks serving at a food bank warehouse in Kent.
People in the community are taking notice of the Guard’s impact, said Sebastionelli. One veteran has written notes expressing thanks to soldiers and airmen who have delivered food to him, and someone hung a banner on the food bank building thanking the Guard, said Sebastionelli.
“It’s cool to see people come in and say thank you for everything that we do,” said Christine Krysiak, a member of the Washington Air National Guard’s 194th Wing student flight who recently graduated from Franklin Pierce High School in Parkland. Even though Krysiak has not completed initial training to become an Airman, she is able to serve on State Active Duty status. “I feel happy, and I’m [doing] my part and helping others, because COVID is really affecting everyone,” said Krysiak.
Crnich credits the Guard with enabling the Bonney Lake Food Bank to perfect its delivery model. “We have systems in place where we can bring this to [families],” said Crnich. “That’s the Guard. I feel like we’re business partners now.”