COVID-19 has changed the way the entire world operates, and the Missouri National Guard is no exception.
The Guard’s 1221st Transportation Company is making its mission of supporting the school lunch program at Cape Girardeau seem effortless, as they assist teachers and volunteers feed kids in the school district this month.
In mid-April, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requested that the Missouri National Guard assist schools with packing and distributing food to students who could not come to school to receive their meals. Most locations served are rural and face worker shortages.
Soldiers from the 1221st began their mission on April 27, 2020 to serve at Cape Girardeau area elementary schools. One of those schools, Blanchard Elementary, is well maintained and sits down low from its street entrance with an almost full view of the entire school. The sight of students moving about the building has been replaced by school staff and the Soldiers on mission who can be found working together providing about 300 meals per day.
Each morning begins with the team gathering for their daily brief. After talking through the day’s tasks, they all wash their hands, don their required PPE, form an assembly line and begin packing the hundreds of meals that will be passed out later in the morning. The once empty, but colorful round, elementary-sized cafeteria tables, quickly become filled with soldiers, bags, food and beverages to be packed.
“It only takes us about 20-30 minutes to pack all of them,” said 2nd Lt. Brittany Ellis, the 1221st TC First Platoon Leader. “That leaves us plenty of time for physical training before we begin the second phase of the program, handing out the meals.”
Physical training might consist of playing basketball, kickball or the dreaded “52 Card” drill, which is an exercise game where the card that is drawn determines which exercise is done and the number of repetitions. After they’re done with PT, they again don their PPE and prepare to receive customers.
Through an open window, calls of “Four! Seven! Three!” can be heard in the kitchen, as soldiers outside yell the number of meals they need. Another soldier from inside gathers up the requested number of meals and runs them outside, where they are handed off to awaiting and eager families, who reply with their words of thanks.
“This is one of the most rewarding things about being in the Guard,” Ellis said. “Seeing kids and interacting with them, knowing they’re getting fed – I just really enjoy being out in the community and doing important work like this. As a transportation unit, we usually operate behind the scenes so it’s nice to get out and help our community.”
Soldiers on the distribution line continue to call out numbers of meals – “Five! Two! Another two!”
Brig. Gen. Levon Cumpton, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, said, “While our Guard has a dual mission, one to fight and win our nation’s wars, our Guard takes equal, if not more satisfaction in fighting and winning our homeland emergencies. And frankly, it’s because we’re fighting and winning with our closest teammates…our family and friends…and fellow Missourians.”
And so the cadence continues -- Three! Five more! Two! -- as will the Missouri National Guard’s commitment to the community.