OKEECHOBEE — Working with the Treasure Coast Food Bank, Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Colleen Curran returned to her hometown to distribute food to those who needed it. Sgt. Curren was so excited when she heard the Air National Guard would be helping to distribute food in Okeechobee on Wednesday, May 6, that she begged to be one of those chosen to go.
She moved to Okeechobee when she was 7 years old and attended Okeechobee schools until she graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1997. She was a member of the high school marching band, was in FFA and was a Girl Scout.
“Okeechobee is where I learned to give, and I learned to love and serve others,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be able to give back to the community that gave me so much.” She joined the Air National Guard in 2001, a few years after she graduated. She was looking for a part-time job and thought it would be a good choice, because it would be six years of guaranteed part-time income. She would get on the job training, experience and she would get to travel. She could meet interesting people and be able to network. She originally planned to join the Army National Guard, but her brother, who was in the Air Force, persuaded her to join the Air National Guard instead. She started out in satellite communications and is now a “Red Horse” engineer (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers). She reports one weekend a month and two weeks each year. The Air National Guard works for the Air Force rather than the Army and deploys with the Air Force. Her original commitment was for six years, but she loved it so much, she stayed.
When you join the National Guard, you train exactly like the full-time active duty personnel, she said.
She has had some amazing adventures. “I have been to El Salvador to build a concrete block schoolhouse. I’ve been to Hungary. We went to Latvia to remodel a school for handicapped children. It’s an amazing opportunity, an amazing operation, lots of wonderful people.”
The National Guard is involved in a variety of missions throughout the State of Florida. They are working in support of the Treasure Coast Food Bank to supply residents in St. Lucie, Indian River, Martin and Okeechobee counties. In Okeechobee, the Treasure Coast Food Bank scheduled a food drive and everyone in town was given the opportunity to register. Calls, emails and texts went out to as many citizens as possible, in an attempt to make sure everyone in town knew about it, and 750 people registered. They were each given a time slot in which to drive through and pick up their food. It was a contactless pick-up, and as each car approached the pick-up site, they popped their trunks, and the food was placed inside. In the future, they may start taking a smaller truck out into some neighborhoods, in order to reach more people.
Sgt. Curran was excited to be able to participate in the food distribution and was quick to point out that she would not have been able to do anything Wednesday if it weren’t for all the people working behind the scenes. There were people at the food bank boxing up the food, and even before that, there were people who donated the food, people who shopped at Publix, all the people donating to Stophunger.org and Feedingamerica.org, all the people rounding up their totals at Publix. “All those people are the hidden heroes that made the food distribution happen,” she said.
Sgt. Curran said they had two teams working on the food distribution. They are Air National Guardsmen from all across the state of Florida, from Tampa, St. Augustine, Patrick Air Force Base, the 202nd Red Horse from Camp Blanding, Jacksonville and all over.
“The Florida National Guard is here to help,” she said. “This is America taking care of Americans. I’m just one tiny piece of the puzzle, just one grain of sand on the beach.”
According to its website, the Treasure Coast Food Bank staff gets their food from a variety of sources, including private and public donations by individuals and corporate sponsors. The donations are sorted at the food bank and prepared for distribution. They distribute 41 million meals annually with only 3% overhead. This means 97% of their resources go back into feeding the hungry.
There are many ways you can help the Treasure Coast Food Bank. You can volunteer your time, donate money, donate food and help to spread the word about what they are doing. For more information, go to stophunger.org or call 772-446-1752.