National Guard goes above and beyond helping at Food Bank of Central Louisiana

Upwards of 30 military personnel have been in Cenla helping at the Food Bank of Central Louisiana
Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 5:06 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Anywhere from 17 to 30 Army National Guard soldiers have been working in Alexandria at the Food Bank of Central Louisiana since March. Now, some are getting ready to deploy to Kuwait at the start of the new year.

Flashback to March. That’s when National Guard Sgt. Jonas Lavalais found out he would be helping distribute food at the Food Bank of Central Louisiana.

“I was surprised that I was coming home. I’m right here, I’m from Central Louisiana, from Marksville,” said Lavalais.

The Cenla native watched as his community went through not one, but two different hurricanes.

“I had family members out here in Alexandria. They had some damage, some roof damage, flooding damage,” said Lavalais.

He’s heard the stories of devastation, hope and encouragement.

“You get to hear the stories of actual locals that actually stay here, learn their journey, learn their life experience and actually what they’ve been through,” said Lavalais.

He’s heard the stories of many people who’ve lost everything and are simply looking for support. Some are visiting the food bank for the very first time.

Food Bank Executive Director Jayne Wright-Velez tells KALB this has been a record-breaking year as the food bank has distributed more food than ever before.

“The support that we’ve received from the National Guard is really the reason that we’ve been able to distribute over 10 million pounds of food this year. We could not have done it without them, and we are so grateful for them.”

Food Bank of Central Louisiana Executive Director, Jayne Wright-Velez

The National Guard has been there every step of the way, waking up before dawn.

“They have packed bags, they have unloaded trucks and loaded trucks...the whole logistical piece about getting food prepared and ready to go out the door,” said Wright-Velez.

Sgt. Edgar Varela-Suarez knows all too well what it looks like to rebuild a community. He’s been on hurricane duty with the National Guard, traveling across the state.

“For this, what was it, past four hurricanes, I went to Lake Charles, I was in Pineville, I was all over Central Louisiana and I went South, down South,” said Varela-Suarez.

Since March, he’s been in Alexandria, stocking shelves and helping the people of Cenla.

“Everybody usually has a pretty good attitude. They thank us for our service all the time. They treat us well,” said Varela-Suarez.

It’s been 10 months since the National Guard showed up at the food bank. Now, some soldiers, including Lavalais, are getting ready for a deployment to Kuwait that’ll last 10 months at least.

“Right after this assignment, I’ll be getting ready to start training for my deployment, so I’m actually excited for the journey. Excited for a new journey, another new journey,” said Lavalais.

Lavalais and the other soldiers deploying will remain at the food bank until Wednesday, Dec. 23. Until then, he says he’s going to soak in every moment.

“Coming from a small community, Marksville, Louisiana, the fact that I can come here and actually give food out to families, give them a good meal on their table. It really means a lot.”

National Guard Sgt. Jonas Lavalais

He says he’s going to enjoy the time he has left here at the food bank.

“I see a lot of children out with smiling faces. The fact that they see military actually here and the fact that someone from their own community is actually here, to be able to give back to them, it really means a lot.”

National Guard Sgt. Jonas Lavalais

A selfless act Wright-Velez says she and the people of Cenla are grateful for.

“I would just say thank you, you know. This service has probably been different from most deployments that they have had and it’s been, I hope, a positive experience for all of them.”

Food Bank of Central Louisiana Executive Director, Jayne Wright-Velez

As for the soldiers at the food bank who aren’t headed to Kuwait, their mission has been extended until March 31. They have been staying at a local hotel in Cenla.

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