DANBURY, Conn. — Since March, hundreds of Connecticut National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have helped their local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizen-service members have donned their uniforms and helped the same communities they live and work in on a daily basis.

For one activated Guardsman, the response effort continues out of uniform.

U.S. Army Spc. Juan Herrera, 142nd Area Support Medical Company combat medic, helped spearhead a grassroots effort to deliver food to local families in need during the pandemic.

“I actually started helping with the food donations before my orders started,” said Herrera. “I had just returned from advanced individual training and was getting things organized to start college. My mom started this initiative and I wanted to support her.”

Herrera has been able to source food donations from family members and other local organizations, he said.

Herrera then volunteered to be a part of the Guard’s COVID-19 response and was helping deliver medical supplies on duty while delivering food during his off time.

What began as a small operation has evolved into a team of 16 people that has delivered about 61,000 pounds of food to 3,750 people in southwestern Connecticut since March 7, according to the team’s tracking data. Herrera, 19, and his family have also helped provide resources to 30 families back in Colombia.

Herrera’s team has also delivered to several COVID-positive people, leaving food at their doors for a contactless delivery, he said.

“We use social media which really helps spread the word, so people who need the food are able to reach out to us,” said Herrera. “What we’ve been seeing is low-income families or people who lost their jobs and need help.”

The increase in support helped the operation continue while Herrera provided care to COVID-19 patients at Stamford Hospital. There, he was part of a team of Guard medical personnel supporting a U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force and hospital staff during a patient surge.

Herrera, who arrived to the United States in 2017 and enlisted in 2019, was compelled to help his community in its time of need.

“I didn’t want to stay home and do nothing,” said Herrera. “Even if I hadn’t been put on orders, I would have still tried to help. I had even put in an application with Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service before I got orders.”

Herrera’s family has been a source of motivation for him to help both in and out of uniform.

“My mom says you should always help people no matter who they are because that makes a better world for everybody,” Herrera said.

Herrera hopes to see his community do the little things to support one another as they navigate these challenging times. In the long run the little things can make a big difference.

“I asked one Major at the hospital what I could do for patients when we go to their rooms,” said Herrera. “He told me to just pay attention to the little things, whether that’s giving them a blanket or filling their water cup. I just want people to be kind and listen to one another. You may not get something back in return directly, but it can help provide a better community for everybody.”

Made possible with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.