Food Distribution improving service to citizens
Cherokee Nation Food Distribution Manager Leah Duncan and employee David HorseChief stock shelves at the Food Distribution Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The program has improved its services to tribal citizens since its inception in 1983 and recently received a perfect score on a U.S. Department of Agriculture Management evaluation. COURTESY
Boxes of cereal set on shelves at the Cherokee Nation’s Food Distribution Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The center is for qualifying citizens of federally recognized tribes to ensure their families have food. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Food Distribution program recently earned a perfect score on a U.S. Department of Agriculture Management evaluation, a testament on how it has improved during the years in serving tribal citizens.
“To be awarded a perfect score is already a big accomplishment for our team, but to be told that we made history, that was a huge credit to the program. The USDA Management evaluation is an extensive process where they examine many aspects of the operational processes,” Jennifer Kirby, Family Assistance interim director, said.
Beginning in 1983, the program began as a monthly tailgate service to ensure qualifying families received food. Funded by the USDA and CN, staff members traveled to locations in the tribe’s jurisdiction to distribute food.
“We used to take the food to them. We put everything on our trucks, and we took it to them,” Food Distribution Assistant Manager Felicia Foreman, who has worked in the program since it opened, said. “It was hard especially in the summers and the winters because it was either really hot or cold and families might have to take, their kids and the elderly had to wait in it. But it was really rewarding too when you know at the end of the day you helped somebody feed their family and the elderly.”
Families lined up at the sites for packaged and canned foods. Although the tailgate sites ended in December 2016, Kirby said they still make home deliveries under certain circumstances.
“It really was a big issue about getting it out in a timely manner and not having any loss...getting it out before it spoiled, to our families. And if they couldn’t make it then you kind of had to bring it back and hope everything stayed at top condition by the time you brought it back,” she said. “But we can make home deliveries if someone isn’t medically able to get come get their commodities. We make 80 home deliveries among the elderly and handicap.”
Not only can participants now visit grocery store settings and shop, but they also have more foods from which to choose.
“We now have a variety of foods, which is really good for our clients because they have more options to choose from. We started out with about 50 items of food and that’s not a lot to choose from. Then we went up to 72 items and now we are at 108 different items that they choose from,” Kirby said.
Along with more variety is better food quality as the USDA changed some products to cater to healthier needs. The tribe’s stores offer fresh produce such as fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-wheat tortillas and low-sodium products.
The program also offers traditional foods such as wild rice, filleted salmon and bison. The Food Distribution team is also working on getting filleted catfish.
“They try to listen to the different tribes and what their traditional foods are within that region and catfish was one of the traditional foods bought up in our area for our tribe,” said Kirby.
Officials said across its seven locations, Food Distribution served 135,602 individuals in fiscal year 2017. Although the hope is to not see those numbers increase, Kirby said if they do the program wants to provide top quality foods and variety.
“If our numbers increase I think we feel there is more hungry in the 14 counties, but if we need to be here to service more people we want to service more people. But our hope is to continue to offer more varieties of food and to continue to increase the quality,” she said.
To qualify, one must be a federally recognized tribal citizen and must provide proof of income, proof of address and identification cards for each household member.
People can apply at Food Distribution stores in Collinsville, Nowata, Stilwell, Sallisaw, Jay, Salina and Tahlequah. The stores are closed the last three working days of the month.
For more information, call 1-800-865-4462 or 918-207-3920 or visitwww.cherokee.org
. Food Distribution Centers
17675 S. Muskogee Ave.
1101 N. 12th
1501 Industrial Parkway Road
1018 Lenape Dr.
904 N. Owen Walters Blvd.
3400 W. Cherokee
Hwy 59 South, Industrial Park