INDIO (CNS) - About two dozen members of the California National Guard arrived in the eastern Coachella Valley today to help beef up a dwindling volunteer workforce at the region's largest food bank amid the coronavirus pandemic.
``They are at our facility to help us with our logistics and operations -- packing bags, processing food, getting food out to the community, distributing food to all our mobile sites and we are so grateful and thankful to have them,'' said FIND Food Bank President and CEO Debbie Espinosa.
The Indio-based food bank supports more than 120 feeding sites across the region, and normally feeds about 90,000 people per month, which is all made possible by a steady roster of about 5,000 volunteers.
But FIND has lost about 70% of those volunteers since the statewide shelter-in-place order was issued last week, Espinosa said.
Seven military vehicles arrived Monday morning carrying 25 Guardsmen and women to help shore up the resulting lack of assistance. They will be working eight- to 10-hour shifts daily until further notice helping out, Espinosa said.
FIND is more than just a food bank, she said. It is the ``central hub'' of the regional food distribution ecosystem, and a state-recognized food bank that distributes government assistance food out to other regional organizations.
Much of the food available at local food pantries makes its first local stop at FIND's warehouse in Indio. FIND distributes most of the food it receives to local organizations that distribute the goods to individual families, but FIND distributes directly to individuals, as well.
In total, the organization serves a region about 5,000 square miles -- west to Anza, north to Twentynine Palms and Southeast to the banks of the Salton Sea, plus the Coachella Valley.
Espinosa is expecting the 90,000 people FIND serves monthly to bump up to 125,000 by the summer, meaning food donations are needed.
FIND can use donated shelf-stable protein sources -- creamy peanut butter, tuna and chicken, she said.
Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chair Manuel Perez expressed gratitude for the National Guard's help.
``We welcome the National Guard's assistance with the distribution of food and pitching in for FIND Food Bank, whose senior citizen volunteers are no longer able to come pack food boxes,'' he said. ``I want to thank the National Guardswomen and men who do what they have always done -- answer the call and report for duty to assist our communities in times of need.''
Members of the California National Guard have been deployed statewide to help with food bank assistance since Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcement on Friday in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
To find a local distribution center, visit www.findfoodbank.org/find-food.