Members of the National Guard help at the Second Harvest Food Bank Monday in Watsonville. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE—Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County has a message for the community: the California National Guard members stationed there are not there to protect food supplies, and they are not there to enforce the statewide shelter-in-pace order.

And they are not there for any type of immigration enforcement.

That’s according to Second Harvest Development and Marketing Officer Suzanne Willis.

Instead, she said, they are there to replace the volunteer workforce the Food Bank relies on throughout the year, which has been reduced as people are largely following the shelter-in-place orders imposed by state and county officials.

A team of 25 uniformed National Guard volunteers is now stationed at the organization’s Watsonville location, helping to do the tasks needed to keep food flowing to the people who need it.

“The state has in fact given us volunteers. They’re a consistent source of volunteer support that we will be able to rely on,” Willis said. 

The National Guard members will also help the Food Bank with traffic control when it switches to a drive-through model.

“These guys know how to manage large groups of people and traffic,” she said. 

The National Guard also came to Santa Cruz County in 1989 after the Loma Prieta Earthquake to provide services such as food and water distribution, setting up tents and helping at the Watsonville Municipal Airport.

The move was made possible thanks to Congressman Jimmy Panetta, who in a March 17 letter asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to Activate the California National Guard.

“The National Guard can provide necessary relief to address both food packing and food distribution needs in the coming days and weeks,” Panetta wrote. “The governors of Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington have all activated components of their Army and Air National Guard. In this time of emergency, the National Guard Bureau could serve as a critical tool to help mitigate the public health emergency in California as well.”

There are more than 8,000 people deployed across the U.S. supporting the COVID-19 response.

“With COVID-19, it’s like we have 54 different hurricanes hitting every state, every territory, and the District of Columbia – some are Category 5, some are Category 3, and some are Category 1,” said Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau.


Current National Guard COVID-19 response missions include (source: National Guard):

• Delivering food in hard-hit communities.

• Manning call centers.

• Providing critical Personal Protective Equipment training and sample collection and delivery to first responders and hospital personnel.

• Supporting local emergency management agencies with response planning and execution.

• Providing support and symptoms screening to testing facilities.

• Serving as response liaisons and support to state Emergency Operations Centers.

• Providing transportation and assessment support to healthcare providers.

• Assisting with disinfecting and cleaning of public spaces

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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