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Earth Notes: Tribal Food Boxes

A line of cars waits to receive cardboard boxes of food from volunteers.
St. Mary's Food Bank

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened food access because of job loss and supply chain issues. More than two million Arizonans faced food insecurity last year, including many working poor who struggle to make ends meet, or those who live on tribal nations.

But this situation created an opportunity for St. Mary’s Food Bank. The organization has long distributed free food boxes throughout Arizona. Working with Indigenous communities, the bank came up with the idea of the tribal food box. It contains items with cultural connections to Indigenous communities, such as wheat berries, cornmeal, wild rice, flour, corn, green chiles, and tomatoes, as well as educational materials on how to grow such foods.

Tribal food boxes also come with a gallon of drinking water, as it’s estimated more than thirty percent of people living on the Navajo Nation are without running water or indoor plumbing.

St. Mary’s has also worked to ensure that as many of the ingredients as possible are raised or produced by Indigenous farmers. Flour and cornmeal are provided by Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, while wheat berries and corn are grown by Ramona Farms on the Gila River Reservation.

Volunteers who pack and distribute the boxes, including Indigenous people, come from all over Arizona.

During last year’s holiday season, the partnership helped more than 18,000 households get access to food. As part of this effort, St. Mary’s Food Bank brought trucks to Tuba City, the largest city on the Navajo Nation. Cars lined up as volunteers loaded each vehicle with a tribal food box. Their reward? Priceless smiles from those inside the cars.

This Earth Note was written by Frank Telles and produced by KNAU as part of a student collaboration with the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

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