CTUIR will provide USDA commodity foods on Reservation
By Wil Phinney of the CUJ
MISSION – The Pandemic Preparedness Building under construction in Coyote Business Park South will include a food pantry to provide commodity foods – everything from fruit to nuts – to members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR).
About one-tenth of the 10,500 square foot building, being paid for with CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act will be used by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to stock shelves through the federal Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
The FDPIR on Indian reservations provides U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) foods to income-eligible households residing on Indian Reservations and to American Indian households residing in designated areas near the Reservation.
The local program currently is operated by CAPECO – Community Action Program East-Central Oregon – located on Airport Hill in Pendleton.
For about 30 years CAPECO has been distributing USDA commodity foods, but DCFS took over the program in 2015. The Tribal social services program subcontracts with CAPECO because there is no warehouse for storage on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Under the subcontract, CAPECO does the distribution and food ordering. Applications for for the program are approved through DCFS. Currently, the USDA commodity foods are distributed to about 52 individuals on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Through CAPECO, food is distributed to income-eligible individuals and families who live on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and for income-eligible off-reservation households with at least one member enrolled in a federally recognized tribe.
Foods routinely offered through CAPECO include milk, meat, peanut butter, rice, cereal, canned fruit, canned vegetables, juices, plus fresh fruit and produce.
The $2.5-million building was approved in July by the Board of Trustees for the CTUIR, which has received more than $35 million in federal COVID-19 recovery funds.
DCFS applied for and was awarded $500,000 in additional CARES dollars through USDA. About 50 percent of that half-million dollars, approved in September, will be used to purchase a walk-in cooler and a freezer, as well as shelving for dry foods. The food storage will take up about 600 square feet with the remaining 500 square feet for a lobby, administration and restrooms.
Later in the fall, USDA encouraged the CTUIR to apply for some of the remaining $8 million in CARES money. In November, DCFS was informed it would receive another $98,000 to be used to purchase a forklift and pallet jack, office furniture and a refrigerated van.
The food pantry will be set up like a storefront in which eligible participants can browse to choose the kinds of foods they want and need.
The CARES money for the pandemic preparedness building, according to federal rules, must be used by Dec. 30 of this year.
That’s why the CTUIR Department of Economic and Community Development is pushing contractors to finish the pre-engineered metal building by the end of the year, according to Bill Tovey, director of DECD.
Julie Taylor and Kathleen Elliott, who have led the DCFS crusade, also hope the building is completed by the end of the year because one of the USDA grant caveats is that the food-distribution facility must be in an existing building.
Taylor said DCFS, working with Tovey and Frank Anderson, director of the Tribes’ Public Works Department, talked about renovating the old Nixyaawii Community School, a conglomeration of modular units which previously housed the CTUIR administration.
“We were told that structurally it would not handle the weight of the freezer, refrigerator or the forklift,” Taylor said.
In addition to the food distribution facility, the building will include storage for personal protection equipment (PPE) from Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center. PPE from the CTUIR and from Wildhorse Resort & Casino could also be stored there, Tovey said.
The primary use of the building is to house a “point of presence” for a new broadband system that eventually will provide wireless internet to residents of the Reservation. Tovey said the building will provide space for eight to 10 internet server cabinets that will be rented to internet providers – most likely companies providing internet service in the Pendleton area.
While the building money must be spent by the end of the year, the $500,000 from USDA does not have to be spent until September of 2022.
“We want to move into the existing building in the spring,” said Taylor, noting the USDA money cannot be used for construction of a new building.
Taylor said the CTUIR Department of Natural Resources will reapply for a federal Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Social & Economic Development Strategies (SEDS) grant in April to support a tribal First Foods program that could include at the new facility a kitchen to teach meat-processing tasks like cleaning harvested animals and fish, with cooking and canning demonstrations. The ANA-SEDS grant was applied for earlier this year, but a snafu in the application left the CTUIR out of the running. Colleen Sanders, the Tribes’ Climate Adaptation Coordinator, said she is optimistic if not confident the CTUIR will be awarded the ANA grant in 2021.
The food distribution center will need at least two employees, according to Elliott. DCFS wants to use the Tribes’ Workforce Development program to deliver customer-service training as well as instruction for a forklift operator.
Trucks, most likely pulled box-car-type trailers, will probably bring food and PPE once or twice a month, Tovey said. The trucks will pull up to dock where the forklift operator can transport pallets to the food pantry.
An employee will be needed to operate the facility’s “point of sales” component, which is where tribal members will be able to “purchase” food.
“When tribal members go to CAPECO (in Pendleton) they have to get a whole month’s worth of food,” Elliott said.
The point-of-sales will work like a grocery store check-out line where the amount of credit spent and the amount of credit left over is recorded. Instead of having to pick up a month’s worth of groceries in a single trip, the food pantry will allow people to use their monthly food allowance on a daily or weekly basis.
Currently an individual can get approximately 15 cans of vegetables and/or fruit, five pounds of ground meat and one chicken. A family of four would multiple those amounts four times, Elliott said.
“Sometimes families only have enough room in their cabinets for a dozen cans of fruits and vegetables,” Elliott said.
The on-reservation facility will also help people save time and fuel, Elliott said.
“If someone lives at Cayuse, for example, to get commodities they have to drive all the way to the airport to get to CAPECO. That’s a thirty to forty mile round trip and in the winter it’s not ideal to drive up that airport hill,” Elliott said. “Having the facility here will be local, convenient and easier to get to. Transportation has been a barrier for people who want to receive commodities. This way they won’t have to worry about getting a ride” for a trip that likely will take at least an hour to complete.
“Right now,” Elliott continued, “CAPECO offers fresh fruit and produce delivered three times a week. Our participants can’t always run up there to see what’s available.”
Additionally, the new food distribution facility is expected to be open all month Monday through Friday. On the other hand, CAPECO is open the first three weeks of the month, closing during the last week of the month for inventory.
“We won’t need a full week (for required inventory),” Elliot said. “It’s been a barrier for people who need food to get through the month when CAPECO is closed for that last week.”
Above all else, Taylor said, “We appreciate CAPECO and the USDA for the continued collaboration and coordination in the support of the new distribution system, which will continue to provide nutritious food to tribal members.”