By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Tribal Food Distribution Program of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has been awarded a $4.5 million grant to help renovate their facility. The funding, by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, comes to the Tribe as part of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act via the federal ‘Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations: Facility Improvements and Equipment Upgrades to Prevent, Prepare For, and Respond to Coronavirus’.
The Tribal Food Distribution Program is actually going to swap buildings with the EBCI Recycling Program – going from their current 5,000 square foot facility and moving into Recycling’s 12,000 square foot facility which was the home for years to The Cherokees craft manufacturing business. The grant funding will pay for the renovations to their new home.
“With this funding, we are going to be able to grow, store more food, serve more people, and keep our workers safe and also keep the participants safe,” said Frank Dunn, Tribal Food Distribution Program manager, who authored the successful grant application. “So, everybody wins. We’re just excited about this.”
He noted that a main concern in the renovations will be safety for staff and participants. “We’re trying to minimize the touch points for cross-contaminations,” said Dunn noting this will involve automation of doors in the service area and warehouse as well as automation of things such as water and soap dispensers.
The funding has been received by the Tribe, and Dunn said the project is ready to roll. He said they have met with an architect, took a recent tour of MANNA Food Bank in Asheville to garner facility ideas, and will be sending our RFQs (Request for Qualifications) soon. “They’re going to start renovating soon. It’s going to happen very fast because the pandemic is here. We are responding as fast as we can.”
Aneva Hagberg, EBCI Public Health and Human Services operations director, praised the work of Dunn and the entire program. “This is a huge accomplishment for the EBCI. It will definitely increase our forces of change to better assess and address our challenges and solutions for food insecurity for all of our participants that are currently eligible and receiving tribal foods.”
She said that food availability is necessary for a healthy community. “Many studies have documented the effects of chronic stress, food insecurity, and traumatic exposures on the individuals who directly experience them. These effects include changes in physiology and behaviors which affect many life outcomes including chronic diseases. We wish to broaden our number of individuals and families that potentially may be eligible to receive tribal foods as well with outreach to include our homeless population and working families with dependents that may be struggling to put food on the table, especially during this pandemic, as long as they meet the eligibility guidelines.”
Hagberg noted that EBCI tribal per capita distribution is not counted as income in regards to eligibility for the program.
Dunn said he and the program are open to and encouraging community input on the upcoming project. “At the end of the day, we serve the community members that need food. So, questions that we want to keep at the forefront are, ‘how can this money serve the people?’ ‘How can we keep them safer?’”
The program holds a special place for him as does this latest expansion. “I’m excited because I, as a tribal member, walked into commodity foods – the same building, the same door – in 1989 and got Tribal Commodity foods when I needed it. For me, it’s very exciting to come full circle and be able to participate in renovate this building that is going to be state-of-the-art.”
Dunn also added, “I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a great staff and supervisors and directors that culminate under Secretary Vickie Bradley. Without the entire team, it wouldn’t be possible.”
To contact Tribal Food Distribution to apply for the program or to comment on the upcoming project, call 359-9757 or 359-9752.