National Guard, volunteers hand out food in Othello

by Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | May 19, 2020 10:15 PM

OTHELLO — Members of the Washington Army National Guard and Air National Guard handed out baskets of food as well as bags of frozen french fries and hash browns in the Othello High School parking lot last week.

Working in conjunction with Eastern Washington food charity 2nd Harvest, the National Guard soldiers and airmen distributed 302 food boxes that included milk, fruit, vegetables, rice, noodles and apples. Hundreds of bags filled with frozen potatoes from Ore-Ida and Lamb Weston were also distributed, according to Senior Master Sgt. Donald Belfils.

“The need is huge,” Belfils said. “We’re helping our neighbors and defending our country.”

Thousands of “non-essential” businesses closed beginning in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and over a million Washingtonians have lost their jobs since.

Yet, farmers are still sowing and reaping, and while many food processors have idled production lines with the closure of restaurants, they still have fields and sheds and warehouses full of things they can’t sell.

Belfils, who is typically stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, said he’s been posted to Pasco for the last month helping 2nd Harvest distribute food across Eastern Washington.

“It’s a big need in this community and a lot of communities around here,” he added as he kept a watchful eye on the soldiers and airmen under his command.

The National Guard was in town at the request of Othello High School Principal Alejandro Vergara, who said students were telling teachers and administrators their families were finding it difficult to get food because parents have lost jobs or seen their hours cut back.

“We saw that and we started to look at ways that we can help our students,” Vergara said as cars snaked through the high school parking lot. “We talked to 2nd Harvest in the Tri-Cities and asked how we can get together and put on this event.”

Vergara said he hopes the school can host the food giveaway twice a month until the situation improves.

Othello is home for 25-year-old Army National Guard Spc. Jennifer Penaloza.

“I know a lot of people are getting laid off from their jobs, so I know a lot of people do need the services we’re providing,” she said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.