By FRANK DUNN
Tribal Foods Representative
First, I wish to thank Mr. Robert Jumper for his article and sharing his memories and perspective of the commodity program. As the manager of the Tribal Food Distribution (Commodity) Program, I would like to respond to his article.
I also have memories of the commodity program. Some of the earliest are going to Big Cove to visit my grandparents, John and Emma Walkingstick. Each visit there, I remember there would be boxes of commodities stacked around the living room. As my grandma would prepare a meal and need ingredients, she would travel to her carefully curated “pantry” and know exactly which box held the necessary commodity ingredient to pull the needed item from.
I am also grateful, of having been a participant of this program back in the early 90’s. This was the era before gaming, and times were tough. My Auntie graciously suggested this program, and I remember receiving the cans with the white labels with black letters too. Today, I can look back on those times and see how I have come full circle. I see the contributions of those who came before me, and the work they have provided to our community. I consider it an honor to be able to look back at the combined accomplishments of those individuals as we work to make progress with the programs today. Although many still remember the white labelled commodities of the past, today we offer our participants a greater variety of items including an array of fresh produce, fresh eggs, bison, and other frozen meats. While we still offer the staples people know and love (yes, we still have the cheese), we have expanded our inventory to provide the community with items that were not available in the past.
Today, we have made great strides to expand our Tribal Food Distribution Program. Strides that have been strongly fueled by partnerships with other tribal programs, as well. Programs such as Cooperative Extension, WIC, Cherokee Choices, we are able to provide our participants with more extensive nutrition education and increase awareness to the programs that are available to provide assistance to our community. Through these collaborations, we have developed our HEAT (Healthy Eating Action Team) Committee. This group of individuals developed partnerships throughout tribal programs to develop strategies to provide support to those in our community. The momentum of these programs helped cultivate relationships that will become the future new face of Tribal Food Distribution.
Our program will also be partnering with the Tribal Cannery to combine into one new building. With this, we will be able to ensure any overage of produce will be preserved and utilized through the cannery, as well as connecting with them to engage our participants to access and utilize the services the cannery program provides. While our current commodity program does not look like the program of the years gone by, the future program will only improve and offer even more.
Historically, the program was run by the state. Today, our program is tribally operated, and thus our perspective has changed. Our program strives to be a tool for the community to use as we work to decrease food insecurity while increasing food sovereignty. We strive to exist not as a crutch, but as a steppingstone – a way to support our fellow community members and provide assistance and encouragement as they need it. Our program also recognizes that each household is unique, and that needs of one household may not correlate to the needs of another household. There are those, who for whatever the circumstances may be, will continue to need the additional food support provided by this program. In my time here at Tribal Food Distribution, I have also realized there are a lot of people that do not understand they may qualify for our program. Unlike other programs, we do not count per-capita distributions within our income guidelines. We also offer several deductions to help reduce gross household income to allow more households to qualify for our program. While our program works to keep up with the ever-changing dynamics of the world, we recognize that we must evolve with it.
With that being said, our goal here at Tribal Food Distribution is always to provide nutritious foods, resources, support, and guidance to eliminate hunger for eligible participants, in a caring and culturally supportive environment. Please visit our website, http://food.ebci-nsn.gov for a more in-depth look at the exciting progress happening here at Tribal Food Distribution.