OPINION: Addressing food insecurity for veterans in northeast Oklahoma

BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Principal Chief
06/01/2018 12:00 PM
The Cherokee Nation is steadfastly committed to our military veterans, those men and women who have sacrificed so much for our tribe, our country and our collective freedoms. Recently, we established a formal partnership with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma to help ensure these real-life heroes do not suffer from hunger and food instability. Nobody in Oklahoma, especially a military veteran, should go hungry.

This collaboration, which is the first time a tribal government has been involved with this local food bank program, means regular access to healthy and nutritious foods, and that will translate to better and fuller lives. It is a blessing that we are able to help, and it is the least we can do for those who have done so much for us.

This endeavor will create a quarterly mobile food pantry at the CN Veterans Center. Fresh produce, bakery items and nonperishable food items are available for about 125 veterans or widows of veterans through the collaboration. The first time we hosted the food pantry in late May, we distributed more than 10,000 pounds of food. The tribe will continue to help identify veterans in need, as well as provide volunteers to help staff the mobile pantry.

Today, the CN Veterans Center offers a wide array of activities for veterans. It serves as a place to sign up for benefits, play bingo or attend other activities, and now we have added the food pantry. It is just one more way we can meet the needs of our people.

The CN continues to look for ways to honor and serve our veteran warriors, and this partnership with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma is another avenue to reach those in need. Food insecurity is a very real issue for families in northeast Oklahoma, and almost 20 percent of the households the Food Bank serves has a military veteran who resides there and utilizes the program. Additionally, national studies show veterans are affected more by hunger and food insecurity than the general population. Many struggle to put food on the table because of a myriad of issues, from employability after service to mental health and related trauma or an unwillingness to seek help.

Collaborating with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma means we are increasing and expanding its coverage and furthering its mission. Just like CN, the food bank wants to provide for our veterans so that they have what they need to prosper.

The CN also offers a food distribution program, which some veterans may also qualify for. For more information on the CN Veterans Center and food pantry, call 918-772-4166.

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