SEDRO-WOOLEY, Wash. – As the Covid-19 pandemic started, the Reserve Components, including the Washington National Guard, where called upon to serve roles much different their normal military missions. One such example, occurred when the Helping Hands Food Bank, called for assistance in April 2020 in order to continue its operations after the pandemic increased the need for food assistance at the same time volunteers were sent home.
"Once COVID hit, we identified that many of our existing volunteers were in that demographic for being over 65 and high risk," said Erik Larsen, operations manager at Helping Hands. "It was two of us [Larson and Executive Director Rebecca Skrinde ] doing the work for a lot of people. There was a lot of things that didn't get done, but when I heard we were getting the Guard, it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders." During most of 2020 and into August 2021 there was a contingent of National Guardsmen assigned to Helping Hands Food Bank to assist feeding the community of Sedro-Woolley and all the surrounding areas. The Guardsmen who supported Helping Hands moved more than 10 million pounds of food, serving nearly 700,000 people.
To make sure that the Guardsmen knew how much of their help was appreciated by not only Helping Hands, but the community at large, Helping Hands and the local community sponsored events to thank the Guardsmen like lunches. Additionally, Helping Hands partnered with the Mayor of Sedro-Woolley to make an official Proclamation declaring that the week of June14, 2021 as “Washington National Guard Sedro-Woolley Unit Week.” Once the Guardsmen completed their duties, and as their deployment was ending, Helping Hand again partnered with the city to conduct a recognition parade through the city streets as the citizen watched and cheered on.
In recognition of its support it gave the Guardsman, which included having eight Guardsman being provided fulltime employment at the food bank after their deployment, Helping Hands Food Bank was recently honored by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Department of Defense office, with its Above & Beyond award.
The Above & Beyond is awarded to employers in recognition of supporting its employees who serve in the Reserve Components beyond the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, commonly referred to as USERRA. Executive Director Rebecca Skrinde accepted the award, which was presented by John Van Dalen, an ombudsman for the Washington ESGR.
Helping Hands Food Bank received the award after being nominated by Washington Air National Guard Master Sgt. Eric Baille who was not only assigned to the food bank during the Covid-19 pandemic in appreciation of their support of those in need in the community, but was one of the Guardsman who was hired fulltime at the Helping Hands.
In accepting the Award, Skrinde accepted it on the behalf of all staff. “For us at the Helping Hands Food Bank, the support that the National Guard members provided were significant in supporting those who were in need in our community,” said Skrinde. “We as a team continually thank them for their support and their service.”
At the presentation Skrinde also signed an ESGR Statement of Support. The Statement of Support confirms that the Helping Hand Food Bank joins other employers in pledging:
“Helping Hands join a cadre of Fortune 500 companies, state and federal, agencies and thousands of America’s employers in demonstrating support for our armed forces,” added Van Dalen. “By signing the Statement of Support, Helping Hands is sending a clear message to its employees that while they are serving their country, they do not have to worry about their civilian jobs.”
Photo caption 1: Washington ESGR John Van Dalen (left) presented Executive Director Rebecca Skrinde of Helping Hands Food Bank the ESGR Above and Beyond Award in recognition of the extraordinary support they provided Washington National Guard members when they were deployed to assist the food bank during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Photo caption 2: Executive Director Rebecca Skrinde of Helping Hands Food Bank signing the ESGR Statement of Support.