Food demand grows in Cherokee Nation amid pandemic
On May 7 Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, District 7 Tribal Councilor Canaan Duncan and District 8 Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden distributed hundreds of food packages to elderly and disabled Cherokees in Stilwell and surrounding areas to help keep cupboards stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Food Distribution Program has seen a spike in demand as the novel coronavirus prompted shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
“With the increase in families served there is also an increase in foods issued,” Food Distribution Manager Leah Duncan said. “We have been able to keep up with the increased demand for foods as we strive to maintain a three-month inventory level at all times. This number is dependent on the availability of foods through (the U.S. Department of Agriculture).”
By the end of March, the tribe’s seven Food Distribution sites served nearly 5,350 households, an increase of 450-plus compared to February. Those numbers were still climbing in April with an unofficial tally of 3,689 households as of April 17, according to the CN.
Broken down further, the number of individuals who benefitted from the food program was 9,960 in February, 11,106 in March and 7,750 in April through April 17.
Food recipients are served curbside to “in an effort to maintain social distancing, keep clients and staff safe, and comply with (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines,” Duncan said.
“We have Food Distribution staff, additional Cherokee Nation-employed volunteers and Career Services program participants that assist us in making curbside pick-up possible,” she added. “For elders age 65 and older, we will take their groceries out to their vehicles and load them for the clients.”
Emergency funds were allocated to bring non-perishable food boxes to communities within the CN for those not on the Food Distribution list. According to the CN, the USDA approved the tribe’s Disaster Household Distribution plan that allows the tribe to provide food to more elders while they stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the help of community organizations around northeast Oklahoma, we have conducted the largest emergency food distribution in Cherokee history as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “With these additional resources from the USDA, addressing food insecurity will continue to be a top priority as we provide food to 5,000 more Cherokee elders. We appreciate the USDA’s help to ensure our most vulnerable citizens can continue to social-distance as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Prior to the USDA’s approval of additional emergency foods, the tribe had distributed food to more than 18,000 Cherokees in need via emergency tribal funds, supplies from CN-owned casinos and produce donations from Walmart.
For information about Food Distribution, visit cherokee.org. Elders in need of food supplies may call the Cherokee Elder Food Hotline at 918-316-1670. Callers will need to provide the elder’s name, phone number and address.