On Wednesday, Sept. 23, the Ōyō•ṗ Food Pantry will have been serving the folks of Blackfeet Country for a year. Located in the Medicine Bear Shelter in Browning, the Pantry currently offers food boxes twice a week on a drive-through basis. In addition, they send out deliveries to people at home in partnership with the Piikani Health Lodge Institute.
According to Ōyō•ṗ Food Pantry manager Cindy Salway, distributing food on a regular basis takes the cooperation of many people and entities. The Pantry works through a nonprofit organization called FAST Blackfeet, which stands for Food Access and Sustainability Team. It is a group of community leaders, health professionals, educators and citizens on the Blackfeet Reservation who are dedicated to finding areas of hunger in the communities and looking for solutions to these issues, and addressing issues of access and cost-effective, local production of culturally familiar foods on the Blackfeet Reservation.
Having worked in food service at Ramsey’s Firebrand for 10 years, Salway is new to her position at the Pantry. A full-time manager for six weeks, she has a half-time assistant who makes up the food boxes and coordinates the volunteers. Last month there were 14 of them helping out at the shelter.
“The Medicine Bear Shelter does a lot,” she said. “They give us tremendous support with equipment and a place to be. And the Montana Food Bank Network is amazing in how organized they are and how everybody cares about everybody. They just want to spread food throughout the state. And Browning Lumber helps - when the trucks come in they send their forklift. I don’t know how we would be able to do this without them; we’ve got such great support.”
While there are always needs to be filled, today’s restrictions and joblessness during the pandemic has made the services the Ōyō•ṗ Food Pantry offers more important then ever before.
Asked if there is still a big demand, Salway said, “In my six weeks we’ve had three times the distribution rates. But some of that is because the word is getting out on Facebook.”
Labor Day canceled this week’s Monday distribution, but they will be back on schedule tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 10, from 3 to 5:30 p.m.