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Delaware National Guard combats hunger locally

Members of the Delaware Air and Army National Guard volunteer at the Food Bank of Delaware’s Newark warehouse on Dec. 17, 2014. Through the Delaware National Guard’s “War on Hunger,” Guard Airmen, Soldiers and their families have collected more than 15,000 pounds of food for hungry Delawareans this year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Officer candidate Wendy McDougall)

Members of the Delaware Air and Army National Guard volunteer at the Food Bank of Delaware’s Newark warehouse on Dec. 17, 2014. Through the Delaware National Guard’s “War on Hunger,” Guard Airmen, Soldiers and their families have collected more than 17,000 pounds of food for hungry Delawareans this year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Officer candidate Wendy McDougall)

NEWARK, Delaware -- So you've dropped off some food, either where you work at the New Castle Air National Guard Base, at the Army Aviation facility at the New Castle Airport, at Joint Forces Headquarters inside the Armed Forces Reserve Center in New Castle, or at one of several Delaware Army National Guard readiness centers across the state. Now what happens?

"For a lot of families it means hope. It means being able to pay for their rent and utilities that month and making sure their kids have meals on the table. For seniors it means they don't have to choose between buying food or medications," said Kim Turner, Food Bank of Delaware communications director.

Donations are collected on a regular basis by Delaware National Guard volunteers, who empty the carts, put it all on a truck, and take it to one of two Food Bank of Delaware locations.

This month the Delaware National Guard exceeded its War on Hunger goal and collected more than 17,000 pounds of food.

Food Banks, like the one here in Newark, act as a distribution center. "A common misconception is that people come directly to the Food Bank. Rather we are a middle man," said Turner.

Donations are poured into large bins, where volunteers come and sort them into categories. They then box up the categorized food and stack the boxes on labeled pallets.

From here the boxes can be collected by the over 500 organizations the Food Bank partners with. These include food closets in churches, shelters, and soup kitchens, and a mobile food pantry.

Partner organizations order from a weekly menu and come pick up boxes or have the food delivered.
"That food will ultimately go out into the community to help those who are in need," said Turner.

For example, nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor are here on a Thursday morning picking up enough boxes to fill a cargo van. The nuns work in a nursing home for the elderly poor. Their kitchen depends on donated food from the food bank, says one of the sisters loading the van. "We couldn't feed them without these donations," she said.

Also in their carts were handy items like paper towels, paper bowls, and assorted dry goods. These were retrieved from the "shoppers' choice" section, which is a small section of the warehouse lay out like a tiny grocery store.

This pantry was stocked and organized by the Delaware Guardsmen volunteers here on Wednesday afternoon. From this pantry, charitable organizations pick up miscellaneous goods that they need, whether it's a can of green beans, salad dressing, or taco mix. They also find plenty of non-food donations that any household could use, from scented candles to deodorant, or paper towels to razor blades.

And while bins are full today and plenty of volunteers are busy sorting food, the holiday season is a bit of an anomaly.

"The bulk of our food donations do come in this time of year. A lot of times we associate the holidays with a hot meal. But we do like to remind people that hunger exists year long. People that are struggling in November and December are struggling in February, March, and August," said Turner.

That is why donations throughout the year, like the Delaware National Guard's War on Hunger, are so important.

"We often see people who have to choose between buying groceries and paying utility bills. In the summer, parents have difficulties affording extra food to give their kids breakfast, lunch and dinner. So that's where the generosity of the community comes in and we make sure we get food to people year round," said Turner.

The Food Bank of Delaware's traditional partners, like food pantries and nursing homes, had over 900,000 visits last year.

"In Delaware we know there's over 119,000 food insecure people. Those are folks who often times don't know where their next meal is. Senior citizens who have worked their whole lives are having to choose between buying groceries or buying their medications," said Turner.

"That's where we come in and that's where the help of the Delaware National Guard comes in to make sure our shelves are stocked year long."