At Food Bank of Wyoming, we value the perspectives, inputs, and unique needs of every person of every community that we serve. And because our service area is the entire state, our team members strive to visit as many partners in as many counties of Wyoming as possible each year to gather the insights we need.
One of the partnerships we forged through our efforts last year was with Fort Washakie School on Wind River Indian Reservation and Buffalo Youth Nation Project, a Native-run nonprofit committed to serving the Native/Indigenous population of the Great Plains region.
Food insecurity rates among Native Americans are disproportionately high compared with other racial groups across the United States. To help address this disparity, Buffalo Youth Nation Project reached out to Food Bank of Wyoming to include Fort Washakie School in the Totes of Hope™ Program, which provides bags of nourishing food to kids and their families when school is out of session.
Lisa Ansell Frazier, a Native/Indigenous woman enrolled in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, founded Buffalo Youth Nation Project in 2018. The nonprofit helps five tribes in four states improve food access in various ways. The Totes of Hope™ Program is one.
“Totes of Hope™ provide security and stability to the kids at Fort Washakie School,” said Frazier. “This, in turn, provides healing. Discovering the Totes of Hope™ Program and Food Bank of Wyoming was such a blessing. The Food Bank does everything for us: transportation, making sure the food is handled properly, answering our questions. This is truly a help to our community.”
The kids who took part in the Totes of Hope™ Program were excited to take an active role in both assembling and benefitting from the bags.
“By enabling the kids to help take care of their community through this food, which is used not only by the kids, but also their parents, grandparents, and other relatives living with them, is in alignment with their cultural values,” explained Frazier. “The food goes beyond nourishment: it strengthens the community.”
This school year, Food Bank of Wyoming was able to supply enough food to serve 150 kids, with Buffalo Youth Nation Project ordering the food from the Food Bank and Fort Washakie School receiving the food weekly to distribute to kids every Thursday.
Susan Anderson, one of two nurses at Fort Washakie School, oversees the distribution of the Totes of Hope™ each week along with her fellow nurse. Fort Washakie School has around 450 students total, ranging from pre-K to 12th graders and is one of four schools on Wind River Indian Reservation. It primarily serves the Eastern Shoshone community.
“The large majority of the families at the school are low income or in poverty, and the only meals the kids get are breakfast and lunch here at school,” said Anderson. “Having food that they can bring home with them that doesn’t require any extra groceries and is easy to prepare is extremely helpful and important. We get a lot of kids coming to the nurse’s office with problems and pains related to being hungry. If they don’t get food from us here, they aren’t getting anything. With Totes of Hope™, we can make sure they’re getting the food they need. We appreciate it, and the families who use the food appreciate it.”