Guard troops leave food banks needing volunteers

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After several months moving boxes and helping people with food, Indiana National Guard soldiers at Old Bethel & Partners can use volunteers.

Indianapolis Star

Jeff Maag knows what it’s like to go a day without food. He remembers the hunger he felt as a kid waiting for his mom to scrape something together or for a friend to drop food off. 

And that’s why Maag, 52, volunteers at the Old Bethel and Partners food pantry on East 21st Street near North Franklin Road.  

The pantry is now in desperate need of volunteers like Maag after the 10 soldiers from the National Guard who have worked at the pantry since the start of the coronavirus pandemic began to leave this week, said Arin Schellenberg, the program manager at the pantry.

Across Indiana, most National Guard soldiers will be leaving food banks and pantries this week despite the continued high demand for food during the pandemic-related economic crisis that put hundreds of thousands of Indiana residents out of work. Food banks and pantries in Indiana are seeing as much as double the amount of people who typically come by, and many food bank operators are worried they will have to cut back on hours without the help. 

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National Guard soldier Marissa Lopez fills a cart at Old Bethel & Partners food pantry in Indianapolis on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Photo: Robert Scheer/IndyStar)

The Old Bethel and Partners food pantry, a charity that serves 1,400 people a week in Indianapolis, is getting some help from a local urban farm for a few weeks after the soldiers leave. But the pantry will likely have to close on Thursdays if more volunteers do not step forward, remaining open only two days a week. 

She said finding volunteers to replace the Guard has been difficult because people are worried about contracting the coronavirus. 

“You’re not just dealing with people who say I have a job or I’m out of town,” she said. “They say, ‘I can’t do it because I’m not comfortable in public. I can’t do it because I don’t want to be around people.'”

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and the nonprofit Feeding Indiana’s Hungry are recruiting volunteers to fill the gap after the soldiers leave.

After this month, only about 80 soldiers will stay at food charities across the state, a decrease from about 300, said Jeff Lowry, a spokesman for the Indiana National Guard.

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