Sixty Soldiers assigned to California Army National Guard’s Joint Task Force 224 began assisting the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in Commerce April 19.
They were activated to support the food bank because there was a heightened demand for meals coupled with a drop in volunteer numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By May 15, less than four weeks after Soldiers arrived, the food bank had built over 250,000 emergency food kits. This milestone equated to over 5 million pounds of food products, which were distributed throughout Los Angeles County to those in need.
“Before the pandemic, we were only producing about a million pounds a month,” said Scott Newton, director of operations at the food bank. “In the last month, we’ve already done about 5.8 million pounds; that’s nearly six times the amount in the same time period that we’re used to.”
Newton compared the output from normal volunteers to the productivity of the Cal Guard to explain the increase in production.
“The typical volunteer is episodic, comes in and volunteers for one episode,” said Newton. “They get trained for 10 minutes, get the hang of it after a while, but soon after we have to start with someone brand new all over again.”
Newton described the Cal Guard as a dedicated team that paid attention to details in the kitting process, which refers to the building of emergency food kits. He said that they adapted quickly, and they proactively anticipated when there would be shortages, ensuring production never stopped.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Alberto Borjas, acting first sergeant with the 756th Transportation Company, 746th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, attributed his Soldiers’ productivity to teamwork.
“We made sure that individuals loading the kits were backed up by two or three other Soldiers who kept feeding them products,” said Borjas. “This way, the Soldiers loading wouldn’t have to leave their stations.”
The daily goal is to build 10,000 kits, and the National Guard has been exceeding that amount.
“We developed a streamlined, well-oiled machine by shifting people around to do tasks that catered more to their strengths,” said Borjas. “Someone with small hands can’t grab four cans at one time; it’s not efficient, so we put the right people in the right places.”
Newton said production numbers from the Soldiers are much higher than he anticipated because they are different from typical workers.
“Typical workers enjoy their time off, take every minute of every break, tend to have a slow start and would like to go home on time or a little early,” said Newton. “With the Guard, they start, they never stop, and their breaks are very minimal.”
On the morning of May 20, a month after the National Guard arrived, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank had built 289,110 emergency-food kits. It continues to produce four to five times more kits than any other food bank in the region.