TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - As the economic toll of COVID-19 began to hit East Texas, many families found themselves needing food assistance. East Texas food bank CEO Dennis Cullinane says when demand started rising, production started falling.
"We had always had a fallback plan to make a national guard request so that we could get highly motivated, strong, young hands to really help us fill boxes and get the needs of this community met,” Cullinane said.
34 members of the Texas Army National Guard have deployed to help pack boxes of food. Cullinane says demand will likely increase going forward, but having the Guardsmen on hand is helping ramp up production.
"We saw those needs that went out the doors here spike to about 40%. That’s probably going to continue through the rest of this month. We look forward to tapering off a little bit, but it’s a significant need in the community right now,” Cullinane said.
Captain Steve Philbot says the focus now is building up the food bank’s supply.
"To this point we’ve done 117 pallets. Starting next week, they’ll actually start distribution, so there’s several distribution sites within the 26 counties that they serve, so we’ll have guys go out and help distribute these food boxes,” Philpot said.
Many of these guardsmen have come from all over Texas to serve here. But for Sergeant Jeff Ortiz, East Texas is home, and he says being able to help the community he knows well makes it even more meaningful.
“I know a lot of people around here and to be able to help out, really, it’s the biggest thing,” Ortiz said.