The work of a food pantry organization on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation has ballooned in recent months amid rising COVID-19 cases and the economic downturn. The group has given out more than 50,000 pounds of food in a month.
Nonie Woolf is the board chair of FAST Blackfeet. FAST stands for Food Access and Sustainability Team. Woolf says in February, the nonprofit handed out 4,500 pounds of food.
"But our total pounds given out in July was like 52,000 pounds."
Woolf says the food pantry’s focus is to fill in gaps for families who are struggling to afford, or get access to, food. Woolf says numbers dipped in September after the program closed due to staff testing positive for COVID-19, but demand quickly picked up again in late September after the program reopened.
The Blackfeet Nation has been slower to loosen COVID-19 restrictions than the state of Montana. Since the start of the pandemic, multiple stay at home and business closure orders have been put in place. The east entrance to Glacier National Park that borders the Blackfeet Indian Reservation was closed to put a cap on the flow of tourists into the area.
Earl Running Wolf is the acting director of the tribe’s Blackfeet Food Distribution program. He says over the last week and a half, the tribe has blown through nearly 40,000 pounds of food.
"The focus right now is to give out as much food as we can to the quarantined and to the COVID patients so they can have adequate food."
Heavy Runner says some National Guard troops are now working with the tribal program and the federal commodities program run by the tribe to deliver food. But he adds that the tribe is currently looking for more food donations to keep up.