PHOENIX — The Arizona National Guard is taking initial steps to helping grocery stores restock empty shelves during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We bring specific capabilities to the table to help solve the problems," said US Army Brig. Gen. John Hoefert, Arizona National Guard Joint Commander. "Our guardsmen are going to be on the back loading docks behind the stores, you might see them out on the freeways."
On Thursday, Governor Doug Ducey said he is activating the National Guard to assist at grocery stores and food banks while the facilities deal with heightened demand.
"The guard doesn't want to be out here long term. We just want to go ahead and feed the immediate gap," said Brig. Gen. Hoefert.
On Monday, about 200 members received training on how to prepare for their latest mission.
“(They’re) doing a quick medical screen just to make sure they haven’t been traveling out of the country and things like that,” Major Aaron Thacker said. “They’re also receiving guidance on conduct and things like that like remember, this is a domestic environment, this is how we engage the public this is how we deal with things if problems arise.”
Within 48 hours, the Arizona National Guard says they anticipate their army trucks to be rolling down Valley freeways from warehouses to stores. One truck can hold up to 60,000 pounds of supplies.
Within the next 48 hours, the Arizona National Guard anticipates vehicles like these to be rolling down valley freeways from warehouses to stores. One of these trucks can hold up to 60,000 pounds of supplies. pic.twitter.com/41rFJrhTbT— Jamie Warren (@JamieABC15) March 23, 2020
In total, about 700 Arizona National Guard members are expected to help keep up with the demand until stores can hire more workers.
“We’ve been told the problem isn’t that there’s isn’t enough product, the problem is getting the product were it needs to be for the consumer,” Major Thacker said.
Truck drivers are also having to keep up with the growing demand.
Jeff Davis has driven supply trucks for Frys for about 14 years. He says because panic buying led to empty store shelves, drivers like him are working around the clock just to catch up.
“We put in some long days but everyone put in some long days,” Davis said.
Jon Dekkers, the owner of American Discount Foods in Mesa, says their shelves are full now, but it’s taken employees working overtime to keep it that way.
“Starting at two o’clock in the morning most mornings to fill at night when people aren’t here,” he said. “We’re doing 2 and half, 3 times as much business as we normally do.”
He says by hiring more workers, they’re now able to keep up with the growing demand.
“We have suppliers that we’ve dealt with for the last 10-20 years and we’ve told them the situation and they’ve made sure we’ve gotten what we needed,” Dekkers said.