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Second Harvest salutes Ohio National Guard for its help

YOUNGSTOWN — A pillar in helping others, the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley took Tuesday to thank a network of volunteers: The Ohio National Guard.

“We could not do it without them,” said Mike Iberis, executive director of the food bank.

Agencies associated with the food bank are providing enough food for 20,000 people per week, which Iberis said could not be distributed without the National Guard.

“The fact that we had to pause our regular volunteers and the fact that the pandemic spiked the need for food, without the help of the soldiers here we never would have been able to get the food out” to Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, Iberis said.

Members of the guard’s 237th Support Battalion will be returning to civilian life. The 671st Support Battalion will begin deployment at the food bank through the end of December.

The soldiers were thanked with a luncheon Tuesday. But Chief Brandon Warner of Cortland noted that the gratitude has been ongoing since the assignment at the food bank began in March — with donated lunch or gas cards for those driving a distance to come and help.

Warner said up to 29 volunteers were present at one time, with 47 overall.

Oftentimes, members of the Ohio National Guard are assigned to wherever they’re heading, “but being it’s a different kind of activation. … We’ve never been activated locally,” Warner said. “This is the first time we’ve ever been able to do anything in our own community.”

This opportunity was unique, Warner explained, as the Army didn’t want to risk the health of anyone by sending soldiers to other assignments greater distances from home.

“It’s not every day you get to come back to your area and help your area,” Sgt. Noah Tomallo of Youngstown said. “The opportunity is life-changing.”

The assignment not only gave the soldiers a chance to see the impact of their work, but it also made the work worthwhile.

“It’s nice having a direct impact on the community,” said Spc. David Degan of Youngstown, adding: “When we do get to go to distributions and see the faces and the families in need and help … it’s what makes it worth it.”

Gratitude isn’t only from staff of the food bank, Warner said. “Community members always come up to us and thank us over and over.”

Before soldiers can thank community members for words of encouragement, thanks and support, they have driven away, Warner said.

Still, the chance to work close to home has been great.

“It’s not hard to do when they keep you going, make you want to wake up,” Warner said.

The food bank’s local network of 160 agencies is still working full time, Iberis said.

So far this year, 10.5 million pounds of food have been distributed.

Last year was a record-breaking year for Second Harvest. It distributed 11.5 million pounds of food.

afox@tribtoday.com

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