By Staff Sgt. Amy King
| Georgia National Guard | May 20, 2020
Brig. Gen. John Gentry, commander of the Marietta-based, 78th Troop Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Locke, senior enlisted adviser, meet with Cpt. Athena Brown, officer in charge, 110th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta, Georgia, May 18, 2020. Members of the Guard helped distribute food to children who normally would get two meals a day at school. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Amy King)
ATLANTA – The Georgia Army National Guard helped the Atlanta Public Schools system distribute almost 1 million meals to families affected by COVID-19.
From April 11 to the mission’s conclusion on May 18, to coincide with the end of the school year, the Soldiers from the Tifton-based 110th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 78th Troop Command, distributed 948,000 meals to approximately 50,000 families in the APS district.
“A lot of children relied on the school for prepared lunches as part of their dietary needs,” said Cpt. Athena Brown, officer in charge, 110th CSSB APS mission. “So, with the school shutting down due to COVID, that was basically two meals a day that students weren’t getting.”
Before the 110th CSSB arrived, APS experienced personnel shortages and pieced together teams of volunteers. However, community volunteers weren’t enough, and APS requested assistance. Brown’s Soldiers were able to fill in the gaps and increase the number of meals per week from 40,000 to 160,000.
The Soldiers were assigned to 10 schools in metro Atlanta. Every week, from Tuesday to Thursday, they would work on unloading the shipments and packaging meals for distribution on Monday.
The team established relationships with families within the community they saw every week, said Brown. Due to close adherence to guidelines and consistent medical screening, not one Soldier on her team has tested positive for COVID-19 despite their close contact with thousands of people.
Brown said the mission saved money for parents who are now unemployed. Many of the families are already low income and lost even more during the shelter-in-place order, which allowed only essential personnel to continue working. She said many of these families worried where they were going to get their next meal.
“They were so grateful,” said Brown. “I had families actually cry because they were so happy that the food was available to get because there are single parents out here that are struggling, and that was just one less meal that they had to be concerned about.”
The Georgia Guard continues to support 10 food banks across the state, assisting those still struggling to make ends meet. One of these locations, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, remains one of the largest distributors and is accessible to families in metro Atlanta and the APS school district.