COVID-19 funds help Yellowhawk feed more elders

By Casey Brown of the CUJ
MISSION – The Nixyaawii Senior Center is currently providing 520 meals per week, two hot and three frozen each for 104 elders, thanks to funding from the federal CARES Act.
The supplemental funding from the coronavirus relief bill (CARES Act) increased the number of meals the senior center can provide to tribal elders, which helps them stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. It also helps elders stay fed during stay-at-home orders from the COVID-19 Incident Command Team (ICT) for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR).

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced in April that Oregon tribes will receive more than $430,000 to supplement money they receive each year from the Older Americans Act (Title VI).

Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center received $76,760 that will pay for consumables like food and freezer- and microwave-safe containers. It adds to the $121,000 they received so far this year from Title VI funding.

Yellowhawk may use part of the money to upgrade the van used to deliver senior meals.

“The coronavirus poses unique risks and challenges to elders in communities across Oregon – and some of these challenges are felt the hardest among tribal communities,” Merkley said in a press release. “The federal government is not doing enough overall to help tribes through this crisis, but I’m glad that these grants will help keep food on the table for these communities.”

The Nixyaawii Senior Center has historically always faced low funding, according to Carrie Sampson-Samuels, community wellness director at Yellowhawk.
“Getting the extra funding has been a great relief because our senior center has historically been underfunded and we’ve needed to seek supplemental funding to ensure that meals can be provided to elders five days a week,” she said.

Under ordinary circumstances, the Senior Center provides about 25 meals per day, Monday-Friday, to homebound and disabled seniors who are unable to participate in the congregate meals served at the facility on Umatilla Loop.

However, those numbers have grown to 104 meals per day as the stay-at-home orders were announced in mid-March.

Sampson-Samuels said the elders’ safety is of utmost importance. Older Tribal members receive critical ICT updates and donated safety items, such as cloth masks.

“We can’t assume that all elders are on social media, or on the web, or getting it from their families,” Sampson-Samuels said. “We want to make sure we are providing them the tools and content they need to stay informed.”