National Guard hands out meals for Appoquinimink students

MIDDLETOWN — Handing out meals for school children and their families amid the COVID-19 pandemic is just one of the services that exemplifies what the National Guard seeks to do, guardsmen agreed Wednesday.

“This is a perfect example,” said Capt. Bernie Kale, director of public affairs for the Delaware National Guard. “It’s unfortunate when situations like this happen stateside, but I think the core of every citizen soldier and citizen airmen, this is why they joined. They wanted to serve their community that they live in — the neighbors that they grew up next to.”

At Villagebrook, a mobile home community in Middletown, the Delaware National Guard were on hand to deliver meals to families in Appoquinimink School District. It was one of several sites the Guard had been to Wednesday — by 1 p.m., they had already handed out nearly 250 meals. After schools closed mid-March, districts throughout the state rallied to pull together sites to distribute free meals to their populations. While Appoquinimink has a site at Redding Middle School, it began a partnership with the Delaware National Guard to bring food to some of the district’s neighborhoods in need.

The short-term deployment involves four Guard members, a release states. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the guardsmen pick up supplies, which are prepared centrally at Redding Middle School.

In their protective gear and camouflaged vehicles, they go to four neighborhoods where at least half the population of school-aged children qualify for the free/reduced meal program, district officials said in a release. On Mondays, families can pick up two lunches and two breakfasts. On Wednesdays, three lunches and three breakfasts will be available.

Families were notified by phone and email on Sunday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the district said.

Sgt. Albert Whitlock is one of those who responded to the mission. He noted that the biggest difference is that while active duty and the reserves respond to threats outside of the United States, the Guard responds to those inside.

“We help the community we live in,” he said.

According to Capt. Kale, Appoquinimink is the only district working with the National Guard now, though others have expressed interest.

With a state and federal declaration of emergency, the Delaware National Guard works with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency to address need within the community. DEMA coordinates between those with requests and assets needed, said Capt. Kale.

In response to COVID-19, the Guard has 30 guardsmen and -women who were “activated for direct response,” Capt. Kale said.

He said that 16 medical professionals are helping set up and staff alternate medical care facilities in Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, and potentially two other locations around the state. Others are operating the joint operation center and are planning out future missions and future operations, while also connecting with the DEMA.

“The Delaware National Guard is supposed to help plan,” he said. “We’re very well-experienced with medical staffing, logistical staffing and also planning these future operations.”

At Appoquinimink, its free grab-and-go meal program has been running out of Redding since schools closed in March. That service will continue.

“The first week, we served 250 children, but that number just keeps growing and growing. As of last week, we were serving nearly 900 children,” Janice VanderDecker, head of school nutrition for the district, said in a prepared statement. “By adding neighborhood distribution in some of our neediest communities, we feel certain that the number will climb over 1,000 this week. In a district of just over 12,300 students, that’s a telling sign about the impact of this crisis.”

Sherry Jones has two children in the district, in high school and middle school. With schools having been out of session for four weeks now, she said that she did try to go through the central location at Redding, but the line and the crowding was a deterrent.

She lives right up the street from where the Guard was handing out meals Wednesday, she said.

“Being home and having the kids, it’s hard,” she said. “This is a blessing.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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