NV Tribe Receives Funding for Nutrition Center in Latest Round of HUD Grants

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A community store and food pantry on the Walker River Paiute Reservation in northern Nevada has been operating out of the tribe’s technology center for two years.

The makeshift store carries produce, meat and other essentials that can be ordered and delivered safely to those living on the reservation amid the pandemic.

But the store and pantry will soon have their own dedicated building as part of a larger plan to increase food security for the tribe in the years to come.

The Walker River Paiute Tribe received a $1 million grant to build a community food center, which will provide nutrition and wellness programs. The grant is part of a new round of grants that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced last week.

During the pandemic, food access for all tribes in Nevada has been compounded by store shortages and supply chain disruptions. Faced with growing food insecurity, tribal leaders decided to submit funding requests to build a dedicated food distribution center as part of a long-term food security plan.

“There is going to be a kitchen where we will eventually start nutrition classes with recipes, while incorporating intergenerational cooking classes with our elders and our youth. Hopefully we can also use some of the space for food-related cultural activities like bringing back our traditional foods,” said Walker River Paiute Tribe President Amber Torres.

The biggest barrier to implementing beneficial nutrition programs for tribal members is the lack of infrastructure on the reservation, Torres said. The lack of available facilities has forced the tribe to run its food distribution program from its technology center during the pandemic.

“We looked at where the greatest need was, and we tried to address that,” Torres said.

The Walker River Paiute Tribe receives food distributed monthly from the Yerington Paiute Reservation under a USDA federal commodity program, which adds logistical complications to accessing food.

“Our people are taking all these months of food and it could be boxes upon boxes of food,” Torres said. “It then becomes an issue of security and space in their homes.”

Torres said the tribe wanted the power to run the federal commodity program (called the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or FDPIR) as a store, a model used by various other tribes nationwide. . Building a dedicated facility on the reserve to house food that could then be safely delivered to families would make a storefront model possible.

“That’s our priority right now, to make sure we have an area that would house food for our people,” Torres said. “I want to give some dignity back to our people so they can come in every day and take what they want without feeling like they have to take it all.”

During the pandemic, nearly half (47%) of Indigenous peoples reported receiving food assistance from their tribal government. However, the Indian Reservation Food Distribution Program is one of the few programs that gives tribal governments the authority to administer the federal nutrition program, making the program a critical part of nutrition availability on reservations.

Before COVID-19, 1 in 9 respondents used FDPIR, according to a survey of food security in tribal nations, but demand for programs has increased by 214% during the pandemic.

FDPIR serves some of the most vulnerable people in tribal communities, according to the USDA. About two-thirds of all FDPIR households have children under the age of 18, and about 40% of FDPIR households have someone over the age of 65 at home.

“Planning for the future is one of our biggest goals and I think by starting that we’re actually moving in that direction,” Torres said. “Making sure that if something were to happen, we don’t have to go off reserve to acquire it or have it brought in. We want to be able to fend for ourselves.”

In an effort to meet the tribe’s immediate nutritional needs, the Walker River Paiute Tribe has also spent a portion of its CARES Act funds on food production to ensure food security as part of a security program food. The tribe also plans to expand the program once they build a dedicated community food center.

“We were looking from seed to table. To see what we grow and distribute it to the community so food is never an issue,” Torres said.

Another lesson learned was the need to create a long-term plan for sourcing food, Torres said.

Due to administrative delays, food dollars for the FDPIR were among the last — if not the very last — funds to be spent of the $3.4 billion allocated by Congress in the CARES Act. Additionally, despite its importance to reservations, FDPIR hasn’t gotten the kind of enhanced benefits during COVID-19 like other federal nutrition programs, food researchers said.

The funding for the Walker River Paiute Tribe Community Food Center follows the December award of more than $5 million in American Indian Community Rescue Plan (ICDBG-ARP) grants to five Nevada tribal communities to prevent, prepare and respond to the covid19 pandemic.

The U.S. bailout included a total of $280 million for the Indian Community Development Block Grant program, which will be awarded on a rolling basis this year.

“It is imperative that we continue to provide tribal communities with the resources necessary to protect the health and safety of their communities,” HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman said in a statement. “HUD will continue to strengthen partnerships with tribal communities to ensure that all communities receive equitable assistance.”

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