Access to healthy food a priority for Cherokee Nation throughout pandemic

Vulnerable Cherokee Nation citizens rely on emergency food programs for survival

Food security is always an issue for our citizenry, and it has only been magnified during the COVID-19 crisis. Early on during the pandemic, the Cherokee Nation launched an emergency food distribution program that prioritized our elders and those with chronic health conditions so they could shelter in place and stay safe without worrying about access to food. Week after week the emergency food program continued to grow. Under this program, Cherokee Nation has distributed boxes of food to more than 112,000 citizens, and provided more than 7.2 million meals. In taking on this challenge, we found that dry goods, canned goods and produce were easier to come by than fresh protein, dairy goods, and fruits and vegetables. Cherokee Nation invested in refrigeration trucks, expanded the storage abilities of our community buildings and provided some kind of food giveaway almost daily across the Cherokee Nation reservation for the duration of the pandemic. To help break down food security barriers, Cherokee Nation is taking on a more direct role in food production. Construction is almost complete on a new meat processing facility that will serve Cherokees who need help getting enough healthy food. The Cherokee Nation lands have been set aside as hunting, fishing and gathering preserves. The new preserves can help reduce food insecurity through hunting, fishing and gathering opportunities. Additionally, there are locations set aside within the preserves for Cherokee Nation citizens to safely spend the day in nature, isolated and self-quarantined.

More than seven million meals served

The largest emergency food distribution effort in Cherokee Nation history helped feed more than 112,000 citizens amid global pandemic

When the worst public health crisis in generations began to impact Cherokee communities in early spring of 2020, the Cherokee Nation responded in part by developing the largest food distribution in Cherokee history to help offset food insecurities faced by Cherokee families in the wake of COVID-19.

The Cherokee Nation served more than 112,000 Cherokee Nation citizens during more than 300 food events throughout the reservation.

The food boxes were packaged with the help of Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses employees, along with community volunteers, and delivered throughout the Cherokee Nation reservation.

Cherokee Nation partnered with more than 30 Cherokee community organizations and nonprofits across the reservation and worked with members of the Council to host drive-through food distribution events to ensure food supplies were put straight into the hands of Cherokee families.

Cherokee Nation citizen Geraldine Dobbs, of Inola, lives on a fixed income and has health issues that prevent her from going to the store to pick up her groceries.

“I am so thankful to get the food packages,” Dobbs said. “It fills in on things I couldn’t afford at the grocery store. It helps not only with the convenience but also the affordability. I don’t know what I would have done without Cherokee Nation; they have helped me so much. All of it is very helpful. I use every bit of it.”

For Cherokee Nation citizen Sue Switzer, of Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation’s emergency food distribution assistance was vital during the pandemic.

“The first time I opened the box, it was just like Christmas morning,” Switzer said. “With being on a fixed income and my husband having respiratory problems, the food packages were a big help. The Cherokee Nation has just helped my family out tremendously.”

The Cherokee Nation also partnered with Hunger Free Oklahoma to distribute more than 70,000 ready-made meals to Cherokee elders during the pandemic. These prepackaged meals helped to fill the void left by the temporary closure of senior nutrition sites throughout the Cherokee Nation’s 14 counties.

“During times of great uncertainty and hardship, the Cherokee people have never shied away from standing on the front lines,” Chief Hoskin said. “We pool our resources and help in any way possible. By working with the Council of the Cherokee Nation, our tribal and business employees, community volunteers, Cherokee community organizations and other nonprofit and federal partners, we were able to ease the worry of some 112,000 Cherokee citizens who faced potential food insecurities caused by COVID-19. I am so proud of what the Cherokee people have accomplished by working together to keep food on the table of our most vulnerable citizens during the pandemic.”