Food insecurity may sound like an issue for developing countries, but it actually affects most of the population on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, especially seniors. This is the story of how Global Volunteers working alongside the community is fighting food insecurity and caring for seniors.
Ensuring every household has enough to eat is an important part of Global Volunteers’ programming. Food insecurity, or family’s inability to access the right food at the right time to be happy and healthy, can be found in many of the communities where we work. In the United States, over 40 million people struggle to put food on the table. Nationally, the food insecurity rate is 12.5%, but on the Blackfeet Reservation, the rate is much worse: According to the Blackfeet Tribal Health Department’s community health assessment of 2017, 69% of people on the reservation have issues with food insecurity.
Unfortunately, food insecurity can disproportionately affect senior citizens in this community for several reasons. One reason is that 23.9% of people aged 65 years and older on the Reservation are living below the poverty line. Many do not work or have very low incomes, and this makes affording food difficult. Additionally, other life costs such as housing, healthcare, and basic services can be higher for elder populations, leaving less in the budget for food costs.
In the town of Browning, which is the Tribal Seat of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, there are several programs that recognize this issue and provide hunger relief efforts specifically targeting an aging population. Global Volunteers supports them all. First, the Eagle Shield Senior Center, which provides enrichment activities and care for the elders of the Blackfeet Nation, serves a meal to its patrons Monday through Friday over the lunch hour. These meals are part of a federally-funded program through the USDA, and Global Volunteers helps to lend a hand by prepping food, serving meals, cleaning, and visiting with guests. Additionally, the Senior Center began a “Meals On Wheels” program about 10 years ago, which delivers pre-made meals to approximately 100 seniors each day. Volunteers enjoy the opportunity to ride along in the van and interact with some of the meals-on-wheels recipients, who are generally at a greater risk of food insecurity because they are homebound.
Finally, the Blackfeet Food Bank provides another resource for seniors facing food insecurity. This Food Bank receives donations of food from three partner organizations and serves anyone living on the Reservation. A local organization, FAST Blackfeet (Food Access and Sustainability Team), recently interviewed the Food Bank’s Director for a report on the state of food insecurity on the Reservation, and she said that although Food Bank patrons are asked to visit once monthly, there are many families coming daily and food shipments often run out.
The need is great, and volunteers help to restock shelves, organize deliveries, or update inventory to ensure the Food Bank can service all of its patrons. Last year, Global Volunteers conducted 13 service programs on the Blackfeet Reservation. Each program worked to help increase senior community members’ access to food in some way. Together, 79 volunteers helped out at the Eagle Shield Senior Citizen Center, Meals on Wheels, or the Food Bank, and although volunteers enjoy their time, they also find addressing the problems of food insecurity to be “eye-opening” and even “emotional” during their tenure.
Global Volunteers has scheduled 27 more service programs in 2019 and 2020, and will continue to serve those in need of food resources, especially the senior population for years to come.
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