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This is going to be quick, dirty, and direct.

I've written at considerable length about how severe the food shortages are generally in our Native communities.  About how many too reservations are food deserts (as, of course, they were originally intended to be).  About how lack of access to nutritious food creates disproportionately deadly impacts on our peoples' health.  About how such shortages compound the equally deadly effects of unimaginable financial poverty and destitution in places like the Dakotas.  I'm not going to rehash all that here; if you want a new appreciation for how blessed your own situation is, just read the information available via some of those links.

Today, I'm simply going to point out that last year, we were afforded an opportunity, by a warrior woman from the Cheyenne River Reservation, to do something about this.  Led by betson08, countless Kossacks stepped up, and helped Georgia Little Shield get the Okiciyap Food Pantry off the ground.  And last winter, people at Cheyenne River who might have starved were able to eat.

Then earlier this year, Georgia herself walked on.  Her sister, Cindy Taylor, stepped up and into the prints of Georgia's moccasins.  Helped again by betson08 (who is also responsible for me writing this diary), and in turn by innumerable other Kossacks who have been buttressing Okiciyap's efforts for months now, Cindy has kept the food pantry open and keeping Cheyenne River's elders, children and families fed.

Across the country, food banks are reporting shortages that are significantly reducing their ability to serve their clients properly.  There are a host of reasons for this, but the most immediate cause is the fact that the federal government is buying significantly less surplus food - the source of much of the food that gets distributed to food banks across the United States.

In 2010, the USDA purchased nearly 500 million pounds of surplus food for such redistribution; in 2011, it bought 421 million pounds (a reduction, true, but a relatively small one).  In 2012, however, USDA purchases have dropped to only 129 million pounds of food - roughly a quarter of what the federal government bought for food banks just two years ago.  

Nowhere is the need more critical than in Indian Country.  And yet, "Indian Country" isn't even on the radar in most states.

Here's a snapshot of what urban and suburban food banks around the country are facing:

From Martinsville, VA:

"It's not playing out too good for us; I'm running out of food," says Peggy Taylor, who runs the pantry at the One Accord Baptist Church in Martinsville, Va. She says the pantry serves about 500 people a month, double the number served a year ago. But, she says, the amount of government food the pantry receives has dwindled from about 200 cases of canned goods a year ago to 32.
From Winston-Salem, NC:
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina in Winston-Salem has seen the number of people served increase from 135,000 four years ago to 300,000 today, executive director Clyde Fitzgerald says. But the amount it receives in bonus food is down 35% this year compared with last, he says.

Its food pantries provide three days' worth of food, down from seven to 10 days historically, he says.

"The magnitude of change means that we're not able to make that up, especially with the increased need," he says. He says this year, the food bank spent $1 million to buy food.

From Odessa, TX:
In the West Texas Food Bank’s warehouse, providing enough food to nearly 800,000 individuals a year is a constant struggle as distributions outpace incoming donations.

Voids of empty shelves fill the warehouse for what WTFB Deputy Director Libby Campbell calls a "critical level" in food supplies.

Campbell cited inflated prices for food, gas and shelter as well as the general lack of donations during the summer for low food levels.
[. . .]
Since 1989, the Toyah Community Club has served the hungry in Toyah with one hot lunch a day for four days a week.

Only in recent years has the club encountered some difficulty in providing for the 30 to 35 people it serves daily.

"Our numbers are rather small compared to other agencies, but we’ve had a problem getting meat," Club Director Virginia Gibson said. "We certainly would not want to cut back on the number of meals we serve. We try to be generous with our servings, so we might have to cut back some portions."

From Greene County, PA:
Each month the Corner Cupboard Food Bank distributes food to roughly 3,000 needy recipients through 14 Greene County pantries.

Unfortunately, the sources of funding have been drying up, and the ability of the food bank to continue operating as it has in the past has become critical.

"There are several factors affecting the apparent crisis of no money and therefore no food distribution," said John Jenkins, who served on the food bank’s board of directors. "In the last six fiscal years, which run from July 1 to June 30, our funding has decreased by 53 percent."

According to Jan Caldwell, food bank executive director, for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, state support for the food purchase program has dwindled to $47,243, a decrease of $42,360 from the $89,604 received six years ago.


The snapshots above are just the results of the quickest of Google News searches.  The ones we know about with some immediacy.  Now, multiply this by 50 states and innumerable municipalities, and then factor in the isolation of so many of our Indian reservations and communities.

And then factor in a few other problems, underscored by the current situation at Okiciyap:

Okiciyap gets most of its food via two public food banks in other areas of the state:  Pierre and Rapid City.  [There is a third in Eagle Butte, and a Feeding South Dakota warehouse in Sioux Falls, but there are additional problems associated with both that are covered below.]  Right now, it appears that both the Pierre and Rapid City food banks may have already run out of food with any real nutritional value, and are close to running out entirely.

This was part of an alert from Cindy:

Feeding SD in Pierre has become empty and only has candy and crap as of todays' list. Our other group, NRC, only had water, tomatoes,soda pop, and crackers. They said they are hurtin also as there warehouse is real low. They usually donate upwards of 4000 lbs. or better, but all we got this time was 1980lbs.
Her next line scared the hell out of me:
We can only open on an emergency basis.

It's September.  If they're only able to open on an emergency basis now, what's going to happen when winter arrives, bringing with it sub-zero temperatures, blizzards, and ice storms?

Now, as to the state's third food pantry, with information coming from someone with direct, first-hand knowledge of the situation (what follows is my summary of the information that was forwarded to me):

The pantry itself operates on a severely limited basis, opening only once in November and once in December.  In the past, its attitude toward the Native elders who need its services has ranged from lack of consideration to outright disrespect.  too many of our elders have to cope with severe mobility limitations and other disabling conditions.  They certainly are not able to stand in a long line for hours on end.  Yet, this food pantry would not provide a means for them to sit while awaiting their turn in line, nor would it allow younger family members to stand in line in their place to pick up the food for them.

Secondarily, there has apparently been a problem in the past with tribal politicians misusing the pantry as a campaign tool (yes, corruption occurs in politics everywhere).

Now, as to the facility in Sioux Falls:

As I understand it, this is actually a warehouse operated by Feeding South Dakota (the state affiliate of Feeding American, formerly SeEcond Harvest), and it is the warehouse's job to supply the food pantries in Pierre, Rapid City, and Eagle Butte. And this is what we're hearing about the warehouse:

You know, Sioux Falls Feeding SD warehouse has far more items than Pierre and Rapid City and they are to supply these two but they don't. Sure Pierre has oodles of candy, sugary drinks and chips, but we are wanting nutritious food stuffs because most of our hungry are elderly w/diabetes and KIDS who really don't need sugar to replace vitamins and etc. In severly desperate times, yes, sugar to keep them sort of alive but come on!

And according to Cindy, people on the reservation who probably long since gave up on any help from the state food pantries have come to depend on Okiciyap for survival:

If it was just our little neck of the woods we could probably make do BUT we're not, we have people coming in car pools from across the REZ and it is a big REZ. 60 mi. from here to the east end and 45 mi to the west and another 60 mi to the south. 21 total communities on [Cheyenne River].
Now, think about making that drive in winter weather.  From 21 different communities.

This is an emergent situation.

In Indian Country, it's crunch time.  Because winter is coming, and we know that it will bring additional visitors:  Cold.  Hunger.  Illness.  Death.

We can help.  Okiciyap.

Here's the widget:

For those who prefer to send checks or money orders, here's the address:

Cindy A. Taylor
P.O. Box 172
Isabel, SD  57633-0172
And remember:  Okiciyap is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so your contribution is tax-deductible.

Finally, three requests from me personally:

1.  I'm working on a new template for Okiciyap diaries, but I'm omitting it here.  I'd like to keep the focus purely on fundraising for food for Okiciyap, since feeding the Cheyenne River Reservation is their fundamental mission, and the ability to fulfill that mission is currently the greatest problem.

2.  This community has done wonders for the Okiciyap on a whole host of fronts, including providing much-needed appliances, warm clothing, school supplies, and other necessities.  But right now, the pantry's basic mission - feeding the hungry - is severely imperiled, so I'd like to keep this diary's focus solely on that.

3.  I know lots of folks have great ideas - about fundraising, about funding sources, about other tasks.  A lot of them will no doubt help down the road.  But right now, Cindy and her board of directors and staff are operating on a shoestring and a prayer, and they're all horribly overextended already.  They also have families of their own.  There are only so many hours in the day, and they are already too few to let these women accomplish what's on their immediate to-do lists.  So while I have no doubt that there are several steps that can eventually be taken (I have a few ideas about that myself, believe me), right now, it helps no one to add to their workload when what they need more than anything is to be able to feed people.  So please, let's hold our advice for now, and concentrate on the immediate need for getting funds to buy food from other sources, if need be.

Chi miigwech.

Originally posted to Okiciyap (we help) on Sun Sep 23, 2012 at 05:02 PM PDT.

Also republished by Native American Netroots, DK Feeding America, Invisible People, Community Fundraisers, and South Dakota Kos.

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