The last time City Manager Tom Ambrosino saw the National Guard patrolling and assisting in the streets of a city, he was a 16-year-old in Revere navigating the Blizzard of `78.
No one was hungry or sick, but they sure were cold, he recalled.
Now, as the City Manager of Chelsea, he said he has nothing but praise to heap on the National Guard members who came to Chelsea one month ago and partnered with the City to make sure food operations ran smoothly in the effort to feed at least 18,000 residents who had hit rock bottom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their last day in the city will be May 22.
“I think they’ve done a tremendous job,” he said. “We can’t thank them enough and I will be sending a letter to the mission commander and the governor to let them know how much they did for us. They stepped up to help Chelsea at a desperate time of need and we are very grateful.”
Gov. Charlie Baker called up the National Guard for health and logistics missions on March 19, but things were pretty stable in Chelsea until around late April. The Guard had its first day in Chelsea during the last week in April – and has been working around the clock in a partnership with the City ever since.
Fidel Maltez of the DPW coordinated carefully with them to help at the pop-up food pantries five days a week.
“I think the relationship was outstanding and the collaboration was excellent,” said Ambrosino. “It was a real partnership. We talked through logistics. They had ideas and we had ideas. We sorted it out and they were very accommodating.”
The National Guard provided manpower and logistics to get food from the Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston and to transport it to the PORT Park, where City workers and volunteers and Guardsmen also packaged the food in boxes.
They also handed out food at many of the locations on various days, and did so in a compassionate way, Ambrosino said.
Many could have been scared by their presence, especially those coming recently from Central American countries where the military is to be feared and not trusted.
“It was handing out the food, picking up the food, and delivering the food,” said Ambrosino. “It was being pleasant to people in crisis and the little kindnesses they did we know people appreciated very much.”
The National Guard troops numbered anywhere from about 10 to 20 in the City each day, and when they leave they will be on to another mission in another place. A spokesman for the Guard wasn’t sure where they would be deployed next.