By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Cherokee is once again making history by assuming another state-operated program. For years, Commodity Food Distribution has been provided to members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by state and local jurisdictions. Now, the EBCI Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) Division will administer the federal grant directly from the USDA and transition to the Cherokee Tribal Food Distribution Program on Thursday, Oct. 1.
“The purpose of this program is to distribute nutritious foods to eligible households living within the four-county service area of the Qualla Boundary which is Jackson, Swain, Cherokee, and Graham counties,” said Olivia Reeser, interim Tribal Food Distribution Program Representative.
Dwayne Reed, project coordinator, commented, “PHHS wants to improve service delivery, increase accessibility, and expand services for the community. The Division will also be implementing strategies to increase the number of families receiving the services because we feel that there are a variety of reasons that they may not currently be accessing the program’s benefits. Our plan is to eventually provide home delivery to eligible participants.”
According to Vickie L. Bradley, EBCI Deputy Health Officer, “The 2013 Tribal Health Assessment revealed that 23 percent of the survey respondents noted that they had gone hungry or without food in the previous year because of lack of access to food or lack of money.”
She continued, “We are so excited about this exercise in self-sufficiency because it will allow the EBCI to modify and design services that meet the unique needs of our community. This initiative also affords us the opportunity to provide employment in the community for Cherokee families by creating six new positions. As we continue to onboard new services, we will help improve the lives of Cherokee families by carrying out the PHHS Vision of ‘Seven Generations of Wellness with families strong in mind, body, and spirit.’”
During the transition, there will be a five day gap in service. The current Commodities Food Program will distribute in Cherokee for the last time on Wednesday, Sept. 23. The program will then shut down and re-open as the Cherokee Tribal Foods Distribution Program on Oct. 1.
“While the fundamental process of receiving USDA foods and delivering and distributing them to the community is going to be the same, our perspective and our approach in doing so is going to be different,” said Reeser. “We will be sensitive to the needs of the community and improve their customer experience.”
The eligibility requirements for participation will not change nor will the location of the distribution facility which is still located at 2260 Old Mission Road in Cherokee. The hours will be extended though, and starting Oct. 1 will be Monday – Friday from 7:45am – 4:30pm.
For more information concerning the Cherokee Tribal Food Distribution Program, contact PHHS 359-6180 and after Oct. 1, contact the Tribal Food Distribution Center 359-9751.