The Blackfeet Food Access and Sustainability Team (FAST) is starting the year out with strong efforts to promote food sovereignty for our community. The support of the First Nations Development Institute has created a solid foundation for FAST Blackfeet work. FNDI grants have been critical to FAST’s ability to provide food in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The doors of FAST’s Ō´yō´•ṗ´ (We Are Eating) Food Pantry had only been open for six months when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit. As Blackfeet Nation families lost loved ones, their local food supply was also struggling. Suddenly, the pantry was serving over 360% more pantry participants. With the help of the FNDI’s Emergency Relief Grant Program, the Ō´yō´•ṗ´ pantry rapidly grew to be able to fill in the gap in food access that COVID had exposed.
COVID safety precautions required the Pantry to make shelf-stable food boxes and fresh produce boxes for different sized families. Pandemic data showed a very large need for out of town food delivery. In January 2021, FAST began their Ō´yō´•ṗ´ On Wheels Mobile Food Pantry, serving over 2,700 boxes monthly in eight different communities. It was the funding from First Nations Development Institute that enabled hiring of a manager for the mobile pantry program that celebrated its first anniversary on Jan. 6. The Ō´yō´•ṗ´ Food pantry distributes its emergency food boxes based on need, not income. Their mission is that everyone should have access to healthy, affordable food, and the ability to obtain it sustainably. The much-needed support of the 2022 FNDI grant, Feeding the People Through Healthy Food Access, is helping them continue to provide these foods to the community.
With immediate access to food greatly improved by their pantry, FAST worked to develop long-term food sovereignty programs. FAST invested in nutrition education programming and their Food Pharmacy Program, which gives chronic disease participants nutrition education and fresh produce vouchers. The FAST Blackfeet registered dietitian and nutrition education specialist also provide free cultural food lessons and practical budgeting and cooking tips.
Supported by the FNDI Strengthening Native Programs and Feeding Families Grants, FAST was able to further help the community access traditional foods such as traditional medicinal teas distributed in the pantry and local bison which is distributed and used in nutrition classes. The most recent FNDI grant they received will support changes in the Annex building that houses the Ō´yō´•ṗ´ Food Pantry, to improve electrical capacity and change the entryway to bring pallets of food into the building.
It is thanks to funders like First Nations Development Institute and FAST donors that they are able to keep up with the community’s needs and find solutions to issues with the local food system. If you want to help FAST support the community, they need volunteers every week, especially as the need for food grows with COVID-19 cases.