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Indiana Wing Ends Food Distribution Mission

Indiana Wing Ends Food Distribution Mission With Nearly 1½ Million Meals Delivered

As the COVID-19 pandemic increased its momentum in January 2020, the State of Indiana would soon be affected. The U.S. reported its first case Jan. 21, and by March 6 the Indiana State Department of Health reported Indiana’s first case.

The state of Indiana rapidly responded to the outbreak. On March 6, Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency. Less than two weeks later, Holcomb activated the Indiana National Guard to support the state’s pandemic effort.

This activation would lead to Civil Air Patrol joining the state and the Indiana National Guard to assist residents.

The pandemic’s impact was quick to unfold. Indiana’s unemployment rate was 3% in March; the next month it rose to 17%. The leisure and hospitality industry, including restaurants, was particularly hit hard by a 12-month decline over 40%.

The combination of unemployment and changes in the food industry resulted in an increase in food insecurity throughout the state.

As restaurants closed and grocery stores faced supply chain issues of their own, food banks lost access to donated food. The supply chain was also affected by the lack of access to volunteers. As people began staying at home, and as many volunteers with available schedules tend to be older, food banks and pantries lost access to staff needed to distribute food and, in some cases, stay open.

The Indiana National Guard, working with the state Department of Homeland Security, realized the 1,100 volunteers of Civil Air Patrol’s Indiana Wing could be quickly activated to assist with food distribution. The Indiana Wing consistently trains to National Incident Management System standards and has the infrastructure in place to mobilize its volunteers across the state from Evansville to La Porte.

Civil Air Patrol, acting as a Total Force partner and the U.S. Air Force auxiliary, aligned with First Air Force to rapidly respond to non-military threats domestically. During the pandemic, volunteers worked as a component of the Air Force in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities capacity across the country, including Indiana.

"The Department of Homeland Security identified manpower gaps that could be filled by Civil Air Patrol,” said the wing’s incident commander for the pandemic response, Lt. Col. Brian Schmuck. “With the approval of the First Air Force, we were able to establish lines of command and act as a force multiplier for the Indiana Army National Guard in support of the Family and Social Services Administration by deploying our personnel to various food banks and pantries around the state.

“This provided relief and assistance for the National Guard and FSSA personnel and in some cases allowed pantries that had closed to reopen.” 

The first Indiana Wing team assisted Marion Community Schools on April 15. At Marion Community Schools, six members from central Indiana helped distribute 38,000 meals in three hours for those 18 or younger in Marion.

Two days later, the wing sent 17 members to Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium to assist the Salvation Army and the Midwest Food Bank with packing 64,000 meals for residents across the state.

Operations continued to ramp up, extending to Gary, Fort Wayne, Crown Point and Bloomington. Allyson Vaulx, Food Bank of Northwest Indiana director of development, said the Indiana Wing’s assistance “allows our agencies to reopen during a time when it is needed most.”

The wing’s largest operation occurred May 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, during which Civil Air Patrol distributed its 3 millionth meal nationally. In all, 73 Indiana Wing members participated – almost half of all the volunteers involved. The event, sponsored by Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, was a food drive-through program deemed “Mega Fresh Mobile.”

Among the many challenges of responding to a pandemic, the ability to distribute fresh, perishable food has been among the most difficult,” said John Elliott, Gleaners Food Bank president/CEO. “With many of our traditional partners either closed or reducing distributions, we have a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and frozen meats to share.

“As part of our strategic plan, we made a commitment to focus not just on the amount of food distributed but on the nutritional value of that food,” Elliott said.

In total, 20,000 pounds of food representing 146,000 meals were distributed throughout the day to 5,000 families.

From April 15 to the end of Indiana Wing operations June 30, 167 members participated in the mission and assisted in distributing 1,467,720 meals.  

Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, Civil Air Patrol national commander and CEO of Civil Air Patrol, put the size of the organization’s entire operation into perspective in a recent directive to CAP’s more than 67,000 members. “In this largest campaign since World War II,” he said, “we have provided over 21,000 volunteer days of service, delivered over 5 million meals and 1.6 million masks, moved over 632,000 pounds of food, and transported tens of thousands of COVID tests by air and by ground.”

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