Food Service Provides Healthy Meals When Acquiring Food Becomes Difficult

   By Monica V.

Food Service Provides Healthy Meals When Acquiring Food Becomes Difficult

The largest reservation in the United States, the Navajo Nation, has only 13 grocery stores in an area bigger than West Virginia. In the most rural parts of the reservation, access to necessities often comes with significant obstacles. To increase access to food among underserved Native communities, Partnership With Native Americans® (PWNA) delivers material goods to Program Partners to bolster their services. Through Standard Food service of PWNA’s Southwest Reservation Aid® (SWRA) program, Elder Nutrition Centers can request bulk food items to provide consistent meals for their Elders.

Our Program Partners, Charlene and Gertrude with the Low Mountain Senior Center, utilize SWRA’s Standard Food service to enhance their nutrition program for Elders in Low Mountain, Arizona. This rural community faces a host of challenges due to its location and infrastructure. A few residents live next to a paved highway, but many of them navigate dirt roads to get to their homes. Rain can make road conditions especially dangerous, especially since residents must travel outside of the village to purchase food – either 20 miles to Pinon or 46 miles to Chinle.

One of the Elders, Virgil, enjoys the time he spends at the senior center in between the many other things that he does to stay active including managing his livestock, chopping wood, and caring for his grandchildren. Born in Kingman, Virgil’s family relocated to Low Mountain, the hometown of his father John. After attending the Intermountain Indian School in Utah, Virgil told us, “I came back to the rez. I put all my education on the side and went back to my traditions.” In between practicing his family’s traditions, Virgil signed up for a job with the Union Pacific Railroad, the same employer as his father up until his passing in 1966.

Although Virgil is now retired at 67 years old, he still prefers to stay busy, opting to spend time at the senior center where he can eat, socialize, and exercise. “The center provides a lot for us,” he shared. By providing meals, the senior center helps alleviate the burden of traveling out of the community to purchase food, which often requires navigating the dangerous roads.

On a fixed retirement income of $155 per month, Virgil feels like he can get by, but he sometimes falls short on his budget. Virgil’s biggest concern is making sure his truck has enough gas, telling us that due to the long distance to the nearest store and other utilities, a full tank “only lasts about 3 days.” If he needs to travel far, he is not afraid to hitchhike when he is out of gas. Virgil has fond memories of hitchhiking throughout his life, telling us, “It’s just something I’ve been doing since I was younger. It’s nothing new.” He feels fortunate to also receive help from his children.

Virgil is a testament to the resilience of Native Elders, especially those who go to great lengths to be self-sufficient. However, Virgil acknowledges that his community and the donors who support SWRA’s Standard Food service play a major role in making it easier to navigate daily life. “Thankfulness and appreciation are the words I can think of,” shared Virgil when thinking about SWRA’s donors, reminding us of the importance of supporting programs that provide for Elders.

Donate to SWRA today to provide healthy meals for Native Elders like Virgil.