Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Warehouse delays impacting food package deliveries to Indian Country

Tribal Nations utilizing the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) are experiencing disruptions, impacting more than 100 Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs). FDPIR packages — sourced through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) warehouse network in partnership with USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) — provide food access to more than 53,000 individuals on average monthly. However, logistic challenges are causing delivery disruptions and severely limiting access to regularly scheduled food boxes. Some Tribes report having delayed or no access to some food staples their clients rely on through the service.

“Tribes and FDPIR program staff are facing food shortages and unknown wait times of to get food orders filled,” said Mary Greene Trottier, President of the National Association for Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations (NAFDPIR). “Programs like ours at Spirit Lake Nation have been told mid-July should be when normal deliveries resume, but currently some Tribes haven’t heard from the delivery vendor in days. It is difficult to distribute foods on the reservation if you can’t tell your Tribal warehouse staff when the delivery truck will be there.”

Food disruptions

The NAFDPIR board is comprised of program directors from Tribes who are elected by their fellow Tribal program directors to serve as regional and national representatives. Since the announcement of the national warehouse consolidation in February, they have been inundated by calls and emails from fellow ITOs who are in need as a result of the national warehouse shipping delays. This issue is not only impacting Tribal citizens. Many Tribes provide FDPIR packages to qualifying non-Tribal individuals who live in their service area.

“This program serves some of the most vulnerable populations across the U.S., with around 30 percent of served households in Indian Country including children under 18. Another 42 percent of those households have elders over the age of 60. Children are our future, and elders are knowledge keepers of our Tribes. These groups are critically important to us and should not be expected to endure or go without,” said Carly Griffith Hotvedt (Cherokee Nation), interim executive director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, an organization that regularly works with the NAFDPIR board of directors and Tribally-serving federal nutrition programs.

In a February 2024 Tribal consultation, USDA FNS announced that it would consolidate warehouses from two locations to a single warehouse. Minutes from that Tribal consultation show Tribal leaders were skeptical of the approach. Tribes countered, saying the consolidation should adjust deliveries to impact only a single region at a time. If things went wrong, a single region facing shortages could be more easily supplied from other regional stores. Despite the concerns expressed in consultation, USDA went ahead with the consolidation. NAFDPIR’s Greene Trottier said the consolidation has impacted almost every Tribal program in some way since then.

“From the federal or distributor perspective, this may just appear like a normal logistical challenge that is part of doing business,” Greene Trottier said. “However, for our Tribal communities, this is often viewed as another instance of a broken promise to Indian Country. Front line ITO staff in our communities ultimately deal with the fallout of the inconsistencies in the food package.”

FDPIR program staff at Tribes across the country are deploying efforts to ensure participants have access to healthy, nutritious foods. They are also holding daily calls with USDA staff to ensure the current disruptions to food deliveries are solved as quickly as possible.

“No amount of hard work can correct a lack of food, though,” Greene Trottier said. “When that happens, our staff are the ones who have to look participants in the eye and tell them they won’t be able to provide what they were promised.”

She said for those ITOs who continue to have challenges, reach out to their regional representatives on the NAFDPIR board.

How to help

The Feeding America network of food banks is connecting with Native/Tribal communities or reservations in their service area to identify the impact that the disruption has had in these communities and how they can assist, especially for Tribes most affected.

“We join IFAI and NAAF in spotlighting this crisis facing Tribal communities,” said Mark Ford, Director of Native and Tribal Partnerships for Feeding America. “Food banks across the country are on alert to reach out to their tribal partners for collaborative support. We also welcome anyone interested in assisting to please reach out to their local Indian Tribal organization or their local food bank with offers of support, which may include volunteering with food distributions or through financial contributions so those impacted can get the food they need until this disruption has been resolved.”

The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is also partnering with the various organizations supporting the NAFDPIR board.

“No one should ever have to experience a disruption to their food supply or worry about where their next meal is coming from. That is why the food distribution programs on Indian reservations play a pivotal role in ensuring that Tribal communities have consistent access to essential food sources. The recent disruptions in food reaching Tribal members underscores the critical need for regional infrastructure — such as warehousing, storage, and reliable transportation — to safeguard these lifelines. Food banks are invaluable partners in this effort, providing direct access to essential items while bridging connections between local producers and Tribal communities,” said NAAF CEO, Toni Stanger-McLaughlin (Colville Confederated Tribes).

Find local ways to volunteer and support efforts to mobilize and increase food access through Feeding America's food bank finder.

 

Reader Comments(0)

 
 
Rendered 07/14/2024 09:13