'It's very surreal': Guardsmen arrive to help local food banks amid coronavirus crisis

LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Local food banks are facing a crisis: they can't take most food donations because of the coronavirus, and the pandemic is also keeping most of their volunteers at home.

Enter the Washington National Guard.

Gov. Jay Inslee deployed the guard earlier this week, and today, decked in a black protective mask, the governor stopped by to thank them for their service as they packed up boxes of food.

"I hope you'll convey to your families the fact that you've interrupted your lives ... I hope you thank your families for us," Inslee said.

Sue Potter with Nourish Pierce County said "it's surreal" to see the guardsmen assisting, but they'll gladly take all the help they can get.

Most of the nonprofit's volunteers are seniors, and 75 percent of them are staying home.

Without the National Guard, she says the 26 food banks in Pierce County, serving more than 65,000 people, would close.

Air Force Capt. Steve Vuleta says this is what the Guard is all about.

"This is our community," he said. "I'm born and raised in Puyallup. The guard is about helping your community, standing up and saying, 'I’m a Washington citizen. I’m an American.' It's immeasurable the feeling we get to just be in support of folks like this right here, right now."

Nourish's director says the need in Pierce County could double in coming weeks. She needs volunteers, food - and money.

At today's stop, the mayor of Lakewood donated his paycheck to the food bank, and the governor emptied his wallet as well.

"That's all I got, not a whole paycheck," Inslee joked.