Georgia National Guard deployed to food banks to meet surge in need

Bins of food await sorting in the Product Rescue Center at the Atlanta Community Food Bank in Atlanta. For two weeks each year, CPAs show their competitive side away from the ledger sheets and tax deadlines. The Georgia Accounting Food Fight helps to restock food banks, and this year’s competition raised enough to provide more than 744,000 meals. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Bins of food await sorting in the Product Rescue Center at the Atlanta Community Food Bank in Atlanta. For two weeks each year, CPAs show their competitive side away from the ledger sheets and tax deadlines. The Georgia Accounting Food Fight helps to restock food banks, and this year’s competition raised enough to provide more than 744,000 meals. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

About 180 Georgia National Guard members are being deployed to seven food banks around the state this week to help with the surge of people seeking food assistance brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As businesses across the state continue to close and layoff or furlough workers, food banks from Dalton to Brunswick have experienced a surge of people who need help feeding themselves and their families, food bank officials said Wednesday.

Gov. Brian Kemp approved the deployment following a federal disaster declaration announced on March 29. Guard members will go to food banks in Dalton, Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, Augusta, Savannah and Brunswick. Typically, food banks rely on senior or corporate volunteers to pack boxes, sort incoming donations and serve patrons. But with strict stay-at-home orders in effect in many Georgia’s counties, the number of volunteers has dropped dramatically, said Danah Craft, executive director of the Georgia Food Bank Association.

Guard members are expected to help pack and stock food, run forklifts and otherwise help keep the pantries running. Craft said strict, no-touch policies are already in place to protect customers and food bank staff when food is exchanged.

In 2019, Georgia food banks served about 150,000 people per week, Craft said. But since mid-March, as the crisis deepened, the number has risen by 40%. In Savannah, a town that depends on tourism, demand at food banks is even higher because so many hotel and restaurant workers have been laid off, she said.

“Seven in 10 Georgians have been told to evacuate their work places and shelter in place and for many of those who’ve lost their jobs, the food bank is their grocery store now,” Craft said.

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