During the ten years that we have had a food program on the Reservation, we have heard lots of anecdotal evidence about the importance of the food program to Lakota families. School staff have told us about the many kids who come to school hungry. Grandparents caring for grandchildren have asked for food for their grandchildren but not themselves. Young people in focus groups have described going to sleep in order to forget about their hunger pains. They also described what it was like when food was meager to choose between their siblings who would be given food and who wouldn’t.

In July, we conducted an evaluation of the food program by surveying reservation families. The following are the results.

How the One Spirit End Hunger Project Works Now 

About 3000 people in 300 families receive food monthly from the food program.  The food is delivered directly to homes with some people who live nearby picking up at the distribution center.  In addition to the families, One Spirit provides food for the Youth Emergency Shelter, The Cohen Home for Seniors, the Allen Youth Center, and occasionally to the Soup Kitchen on Rosebud Reservation.   

One Spirit has tried several different distribution methods including delivering to homes, delivering to a central location in each district where families would meet the drivers to pick up their food, and requesting as many people as possible to pick up their food at the distribution center. None of these methods have worked to efficiently get food to the people. 

In consultation with the Lakota people, it seems that the best means of meeting the food needs is through food pantries established and managed by the local communities. Another important step is establishing sustainable food sources through increasing the buffalo herd and building the meat processing facility on the reservation, supporting the development of greenhouses, as well as through traditionally cultivated foods.  

As we start a transition from food delivery to food pantries, we wanted real data on the need. We wanted to know how often people went without food, what kind of health problems existed and in how many homes, whether food currently being distributed were what was needed, what other foods were needed, and on average, how many people ate regularly in each home. We included these and other questions on a survey and two of our area service coordinators called everybody on the One Spirit food program that they could reach by telephone. The people they spoke with were eager to participate and share their thoughts. They often said they were glad that someone asked.

Below is a report of this initial evaluation.

Participants

The evaluation included 105 of the 300 Lakota families who receive food from the OS program.   All food program participants who could be reached by telephone were interviewed. All nine districts of the reservation were included.

Number of people living in the home

  • 84 of the families had between 2-5 adults living in the home.
  • 60 families included 2-5 children.
  • 10 households reported 6-9 adults in the home
  • 39 families stated 6-9 children lived in the home with them.

Almost all of the homes shared their food regularly with people who did not live with them. The Lakota is a sharing culture and about 83 homes reported that they shared food with up to nine people not counted in their family members and 17 homes shared their food with more than 10 people who did not live with them. 

Health Problems

Of the families interviewed 86 families stated members of their family had health problems.

  • 53 had diabetes
  • 32 had high blood pressure
  • 16 had heart disease
  • 19 had asthma.  

47 families stated that 1 person in their family had these serious health problems and 39 families reported that 2 or more members of their family had these health problems. Other health problems reported included kidney disease and high cholesterol. 

Dietary needs related to the serious health conditions were often not known or the food was not available.

Food Shortages

  • 64 families reported missing meals due to lack of food 2-5 times per week
  • 17 families stated they missed meals daily.
  • 70 families said they run completely out of food before the reissuance of EBT (government subsidies on the 10th of each month.)  

Adults often miss meals to give children what food there is available and many families eat only twice a day – even family members with serious health problems. When food was available, meals were described as consisting of either cereal or potatoes during those critical two weeks and many stated they would often have tomato juice with saltine crackers as a meal to try to stretch out their food supplies.

One grandmother revealed that it is common practice to send kids to wakes (of which there are many of the Reservation) whether they knew the deceased or not, because they know the kids will be fed.

Kinds of Food Needed

All the families stated the fresh meat, fruits and vegetables provided by the food program are much needed by everyone including those with health problems. They also added that they needed more of those things.

The items listed by almost every family as seriously needed were more meat, fruits and vegetables; eggs and dairy like milk and yogurt; hot and cold cereal; tea, coffee, flour, salt, sugar, juice with no sugar added; healthy snacks for the kids like cheese sticks, nutrition bars that have no sugar added and are high protein, nuts; household and hygiene items.

Best Things About the Food Program

The families all voiced their appreciation for the food and said that it comes when they are running out. They voiced their thanks to the people who worked in the program and to the people who donated to support the program. 

Food Program Problems

Every family indicated the need for more fresh meat, fruits and vegetables and the other foods mentioned above. Problems identified included:

  1. Not enough of each item to feed all their family
  2. Need to know every month the day and approximate times the food will be delivered
  3. Sometimes the meat is “thawed” out.
  4. Can’t get anyone on the phone to answer questions on food day
  5. Delivery problems have included boxes being short of food that was supposed to be there; drivers not showing up with the food; families being skipped even when they were on the list to receive a box.
  6. Families are not able to receive food on an urgent need basis.
  7. Some families reported that meat was frequently missing.
  8. The boxes do not include hygiene items that are urgently needed.
  9. When families do not get food boxes, it means that they will be without food.
  10. While most of the drivers are great and honest, the families felt there are some who are neither.

Conclusions

This evaluation clearly shows that the One Spirit food program is addressing a profound need but not completely meeting that need. People are still going without food and those with health problems do not have access to the foods they need. Children also go without food and particularly without the healthy food needed for their development and to minimize the risk of serious health problems that are rampant on the Reservation.

Recommendations

  1. Establish food pantries that will replace the current delivery system and put food in reach of all the families.
  2. Put Money used for delivery to all homes toward buying food for the pantries. All the families indicated they would be able to get to a local pantry if it was established in their area.
  3. Put the Lakota fully in charge of the program, who gets food, how much and what kind.
  4. Coordinate with all the organizations that currently provide food in different ways to funnel resources through the food pantries.
  5. Develop with the Lakota, foods that are traditional and can be incorporated into the food pantries.
  6. Develop with the Lakota a plan for sustaining food for their people, including:
    1. Utilizing Greenhouses
    2. Increasing buffalo herd
    3. Establish USDA certified meat processing facility on reservation
    4. Utilizing timpsila, choke cherries, and other available traditional foods