BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland National Guard is made up of your neighbors, friends, coworkers maybe even your family members. These men and women have certainly answered the call of duty, serving their community throughout the pandemic, not just here in Baltimore, but throughout the state.

WJZ reporter Sean Streicher and photojournalist Lance Thomas rode along during a humanitarian mission as they delivered food to residents on the eastern shore.

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The Maryland National Guard has been activated since March. Since that time they’ve built field hospitals, conducted COVID-19 testing, but one of their primary objectives is keeping Maryland fed.

“This is the community where the Maryland National Guard comes from so it’s Marylanders giving back to Maryland,” said Brigadier General Janeen L. Birckhead, Maryland Army National Guard.

Armed with ambition and a desire to help, soldiers board the UH-60 Black Hawk at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation in Baltimore County. Destined for the Eastern Shore their mission is to distribute food to hard hit, remote towns.

“No matter where people are located, they’re still Marylanders and we’re here to take care of them no matter where they are in the state,” Capt. Michael Fedner, Maryland Army National Guard.

After landing at the Bay Bridge Airport on Kent Island, it’s a 25-minute drive to Centreville United Methodist’s Church, in Queen Anne’s County, the site of the monthly Haven Ministries food pantry.

With gloves and masks as their armor, soldiers pack bags with canned goods and produce.

“It’s amazing to have the national guard here,” said Krista Pettit, Executive Director of Haven Ministries.

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Demand at the pantry has nearly doubled over the past few weeks, said Pettit.

“And we have a lot of new people,” she said. “We’ve had 122 brand new people that for the last 8 years have never visited our food pantry.”

These soldiers are helping them keep up with the demand

They anticipated helping 150 families Friday but keep in mind, that’s only at this distribution. They’re doing these across the state and estimate they help feed thousands of people a day.

“It’s a blessing because in times like this we need this, we need this,” said Marina James

“And with the coronavirus going on, it’s definitely a big help to those families and their children,” said Shanae James.

It’s a monumental effort, fighting an invisible enemy, but to them, it’s just neighbors helping neighbors.

“Ive grown up in Maryland, and I’ve lived here almost my entire life,” Capt. Fedner said. “This is home and it really means a lot to me to come all the way out here to assist my fellow Marylanders.”

The Maryland National Guard is used to being activated for things like severe weather, which typically last a few days to a couple weeks. This is obviously going to last a lot longer, but they say they’ll be here to help their state for as long as they’re needed.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Sean Streicher