DVIDS – News – Illinois National Guard Troops Volunteer to Help at East St. Louis Community Garden

Illinois National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who work with the East St. Louis Department of Health’s COVID-19 Immunization Program devote long hours every day to protecting the health of community residents by delivering life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.
What do these troops do in their free time? At least one group of troops is protecting the health of the community’s residents, this time by donating many awards to the FRESH Community Training Garden in East St. Louis, Illinois.
“I enjoy community work,” said Illinois Army National Guard Spc. Jonnie Sorenson, a small arms artillery repair technician from Creve Core, Illinois. “The church is helping with the mission and I wanted to give something back. I am also learning a lot of horticultural techniques. “
In 2010, Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside used her education and farming skills to tackle half an acre of untamed overgrowth in the heart of East St. Louis and set foot out of it to battle the area’s food dessert. Not only did she plan to feed her community with the foods grown in this garden, but she also built the place to hold classes where everyone could learn how to plant, grow, harvest, cook, and sell products.
For some soldiers in the Illinois National Guard’s 123rd Engineering Battalion, this garden became just that – a place to learn and grow.
Chief Warrant Officer of the Illinois Army National Guard 3 William Ellis, warrant officer for the maintenance unit, was born in Murphysboro, Illinois and has served in the armed forces for 19 years. Ellis works as a federal technician in Peoria, Illinois. When Ellis heard of a volunteer opportunity, he turned to his soldiers and asked who would like to help.
Sorenson was the first to raise his hand. Sorenson has been in the military for three years. As a traditional guardsman, he spends his civilian years as a welder at Profab in Morton, IL. When he is free from his work duties, he likes to practice and is better at drawing.
Sorenson and Ellis knew they would volunteer their downtime after the long days of the week at the vaccination site, and traveled not just once but twice to the garden to help. The second time Sorenson volunteered for the garden, his example evoked the community spirit in his fellow soldiers.
Sorenson and Ellis were joined by Spc. Justin Poorman of Robinson, Ill., A quartermaster chemical repair specialist; Spc. Lawrence Black, civil engineer from East St. Louis, Illinois and Spc. Elliot Mitchell, civil engineer from Belleville, Illinois. A few hours after their service, this group of the 123rd Engineering Battalion was replaced by Chief Master Sgt. Christina Rizzo, the new Command Chief Master Sgt. Of the Illinois Air National Guard’s 126th Air Refueling Wing. Together, this diverse group of service members helped Whiteside and her family plant onions, fell apple trees, tilled garden beds, and got heavy landscaping.
“I can’t tell how glad I am,” said Whiteside. “You are here to help me and there are no words to express my appreciation.”
Ellis highlighted Sorenson and his service. “So that he volunteers his downtime so early in his career and after the week we had on site, it speaks loudly about his character. He’s a good soldier and I’m proud of these guys who have strengthened themselves. “
Illinois National Guard members are encouraged to serve outside the military. It strengthens the character of our service members and strengthens the relationship between our guard members and the citizens who protect them.
In Sorenson’s words, “Vegetables weren’t the only things grown today, the community has grown too.”

Recording date: 04/16/2021
Release Date: 04/16/2021 1:47 PM
Story ID: 394071
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