Ohio National Guardsmen Jason Bishop, Adam Alexander, and Johnathan Huster help sort through candy and food that will be distributed through the United Way food program. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Ohio National Guardsmen Jason Bishop, Adam Alexander, and Johnathan Huster help sort through candy and food that will be distributed through the United Way food program. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – On Tuesday, three National Guard members from the Lima unit assisted the Van Wert County United Way in sorting food supplies. The Guardsmen delivered food from the West Ohio Food Bank to Van Wert County in their military truck.

"Rather than West Ohio Food Bank sending their truck, they sent the National Guard and we used them to help unload," said Vicki Smith, Van Wert County United Way Director. "We got a bunch of candy, so we are going to try to make up an Easter bag for the families this week."

Each volunteer that helps with the United Way is screened in through a questionnaire asking them how they are feeling, and they each have their temperatures checked. Gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer are provided. Until this week, masks weren't required, but now with the new CDC recommendation, the United Way is requiring volunteers to wear masks.

The Ohio National Guard has been working for the past 17 days now with local food banks around Ohio to help with sorting and distributing food.

"We're here to help out the community as much as we can," said National Guardsman Jason Bishop. "We're here for 11 counties; we came out with the West Ohio Food Bank. This is what I signed up for; I want to help out as much as I can and do whatever I'm told to do."

Bishop said that the National Guard plans to help out as long as needed. Bishop was assisted by Adam Alexander and Johnathan Huster.

In addition to food coming in for the United Way, other local pantries are providing food services in the community, as well. Volunteer Mike Smith works with the Trinity Friends, Salvation Army, and United Methodist Chruch food pantries. Mike Smith was able to utilize a connection with a Toledo non-profit that provides food called Enpuzzlement. Each week, food comes from Enpuzzlement, often driven by Vantage Career Center semi-trucks, and is distributed to the local pantries.

"We've been working with them to get all the supplies we need to bring back," said Mike Smith. "There is a variety of things they get, it's never the same thing because you just never know what they have, but there is a lot of good stuff that we can bring back and then distribute to the families here in our community."

Each week, United Way volunteers unload trucks on Tuesday and then work until Friday to make sure bags are ready to go for families in need. Then, on Friday, food is ready for pick-up throughout the county.

Food is distributed from 3:30-5 p.m. at the following locations: Goedde Building Gym in Van Wert City, AmVets Building in Middle Point, Convoy United Methodist Church in Convoy, Town Hall in Wren, and the Fire Department/PhotoStar in Willshire.

Vicki Smith said the United Way plans to keep distributing food until May 1. The program is being funded through grants, private donations, and an emergency disaster fund that was created after the 2002 tornado. Individuals who would like to donate can do so online through PayPal at unitedwayvanwert.org or can they can mail a check to the United Way Office on Main Street.