For the past two weeks, as more and more people find themselves out of work or simply find themselves strapped for cash, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has stepped up to make itself a place that can continue providing relief for those who are struggling.
With two new warehouses to help a growing demand, the Foodbank has been preparing itself to provide people with food as times are getting harder due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.
But, as the Foodbank continues to provide help, even they need a little aid in making sure they can safely get that food to people.
That’s where the National Guard comes in.
“You’re seeing a situation where the need for services will probably at least double, hence, we are doubling in size for our warehouse space and we don’t have the funds to double our workforce so the National Guard is a great solution to this huge need that is going to develop,” Erik Talkin, CEO for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, told the News-Press.
Twenty National Guard members were requested by Mr. Talkin and have been providing help across the county since Thursday, with Mr. Talkin adding that he was very pleased with how quickly he was able to receive the help.
“It’s made things a lot easier for warehouse staff in terms of them doing some deliveries and helping around the warehouse so it’s a big help,” Mr. Talkin said.
“As far as I know, we are the first activation of the National Guard in California for a Foodbank.”
Captain Jason Sweeney, a public affairs officer, told the News-Press that this mission the National Guard members are on is a bit different than usual.
“Usually we get activated to fight for the fire season or for floods, earthquakes or any kind of a crisis so this was a little new for us,” Capt. Sweeney said.
“But when you join the National Guard in general, you’re signed up to respond to crises like these.”
Despite not being used to it, Staff Sgt. Andrew Tymczyszyn, who is currently helping in Santa Maria, certainly got the hang of it pretty quickly.
“I got to hand out food to people in need my first day and the look on their faces was really rewarding. I mean, it really made me appreciate what we were doing here and
appreciate the fact that we were able to help,” Staff Sgt. Tymczyszyn said.
Staff Sgt. Tymczyszyn, who is from Simi Valley and graduated from Cal State Channel Islands, is one of a 14-member squad who arrived at the Foodbank. He is a member of the 146th Airlift Wing based at the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme.
Staff Sgt.Tymczyszyn has helped during times of crisis before, saying his base has a “firefighting mission” but he never expected to help during “the next pandemic.
“But the Foodbank workers are loving it. We’ve got 14 people up here and every single person worked continuously throughout the day, non stop at any point and it’s just great,” Staff Sgt. Tymczyszyn, who will be completing his 10th year as a National Guard member in April, said.
“Some of the people are just packing meals but actually going out to the community and seeing the look on the faces. I hope everyone who comes on this mission gets to do that at least at one point, because it really brings it all together and gives you the warm fuzzies.”
On Saturday, Senior Airman Jason Rodriguez also got that good feeling. He is currently helping around South County, but on Saturday, he along with five others were sent up to help at Lompoc.
“It was honestly kind of a heartwarming experience because the contact we made directly with people on outside, as far as military was nice,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
This type of work is also very different than what Mr. Rodriguez is used too.
“We are usually doing search and recovery, which is finding dead bodies whereas now, we are helping people survive and it’s just a totally different experience to us and it’s an enlightening time,” Mr. Rodrgiuez said.
Born in Ventura County, Mr. Rodriguez is also very familiar with the Santa Barbara County area. He said when he was younger, he would come up to Lake Cachuma with his family often.
“On a personal level it hits you a little bit more than it would going somewhere else. This is almost like my home right here, this is where I grew up so it feels good to give back to these communities,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
Like Staff Sgt.Tymczyszyn, Mr. Rodriguez has also been giving food to people as well as preparing bags filled with non-perishable goods most times.
One time out on the road stuck with him, however.
“I made a delivery to a woman and she almost came to tears and she said ‘God bless you’ and it hit the soft spot. To see someone tear and start to cry over something like that, you never thought you’d experience it but we’re here right now. It’s a tough time for people and it feels good to be there for them when they need it,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
This coming week, 14 members will be helping in North County while six will be helping in South County. The original time requested for these National Guard members was two weeks, but they will likely be here a lot longer.
“It’s going to be much longer than that I’m sure, that is just the initial period,” Mr. Talkin said.
At some point, however, the National Guard members will leave, likely to go help another area in need of support. Because of that, Mr. Talkin said it will be vital to “we’re really gonna need to build a network that will enable us to get a lot more food out to a lot of people.
“That challenge is yet to come.”
Until then, however, people like Staff Sgt.Tymczyszyn and Mr. Rodriguez will continue providing relief.
For Staff Sgt.Tymczyszyn who has helped in times of need before, even he admitted he’s never felt quite like this before
“It really did make me feel good. I drove away from the first location just feeling like ‘Wow.’ I’ve been on wildfire fighting missions, I’ve helped with the Oroville Dam situation that I’ve never felt good about anything,” Staff Sgt. Tymczyszyn said.