Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday deployed the California National Guard to assist food banks statewide serving residents whose needs have not been met due to food shortages during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom said the short-term deployment will initially assist a food bank distribution warehouse in Sacramento County and will also assess the needs of other California counties that have requested assistance with their food bank programs.
“It’s in these times of crisis that Californians are at their best, coming to the aid of those in their community who are most in need. Food banks provide a critical lifeline for families, and are needed now more than ever,” Newsom said in a statement released Friday night. “Families across our state are suddenly losing work, and millions of Californians most vulnerable to COVID-19 are staying home to protect their health and the health of others.”
Newsom put the guard on alert earlier this week, saying it would focus on both humanitarian and public safety needs. Newsom specifically pointed out that the state wanted to ensure that “food delivery is happening appropriately” and expressed concern about grocery stores overwhelmed by customers hoarding food and other essential household goods.
California’s National Guard force of roughly 22,000 troops has often been activated in times of disaster and crisis, particularly in response to devastating wildfires and earthquakes.
Then-Gov. Pete Wilson deployed the guard after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when troops patrolled streets and enforced a night-time curfew. Earlier this month, a California National Guard helicopter delivered supplies to the Grand Princess cruise ship when it was held off San Francisco until some of the passengers and crew could be tested for the coronavirus. The ship eventually docked in Oakland.
More than 25 states have already called in their national guard troops in response to the pandemic.
Newsom said that due to the coronavirus crisis, food banks throughout California have been affected by a decline in volunteers. The California National Guard will play a temporary role until assistance can be provided by other public service groups, including AmeriCorps, California Conservation Corps and Local Conservation Corps members, Newsom said.
The California National Guard could later be called on to provide medical and logistical support to deal with the spread of the coronavirus throughout California, which state officials expect to overwhelm the state’s hospital system.
The guard could also assist local law enforcement if needed to enforce the governor’s executive order to have most Californians stay at home and businesses deemed nonessential to remain closed.