Upon hearing news of the Blackfeet Nation’s forthcoming 14-day lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19, the Flathead Food Bank rallied to coordinate shipments of food to the reservation before closures go into effect beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.
Trucks were picking up pallets from the Kalispell-based food bank on Friday and Saturday to transport to the reservation. Flathead Food Bank Executive Director Jamie Quinn said thousands of pounds of food would be delivered.
“It became a call to action once we got the information,” Quinn said.
Quinn said no food bank customers will be impacted, as the shipments are being culled from warehoused inventory. She’s coordinating with the Montana Food Bank Network to replenish the reserves next week.
“If everything closes down for two weeks, there’s a lot of concern about people who are struggling to begin with and already don’t have enough food,” she said. “There are serious concerns about the hunger component.”
The food bank’s efforts to address those concerns include a wide variety of items provided to pantries and services on the reservation: crackers, snacks, fruit, veggies, milk, frozen and canned meat, diapers, baby formula, and more. Serious JuJu, a local skateboard Christian ministry, was assisting with deliveries.
The Flathead Food Bank itself was closed for a week recently after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, so Quinn knows firsthand the impacts of food-source closures at a time when food insecurity is higher than normal.
“Our customers struggled with us shut down for a week, and they still had access to other places,” she said. “(The reservation) will be shut down for two weeks.”
Quinn said the situation illuminates the importance of the Flathead Food Bank keeping reserves on hand in a warehouse: there’s enough food to both feed current customers and respond to emergencies during the unpredictability of the pandemic.
At an emergency meeting on Thursday, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council authorized a mandatory 14-day shutdown of the entire reservation. The several-day delay in the shutdown going into effect was designed to “allow individuals to get supplies they need,” according to the Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command’s Facebook page.
The Browning Public Schools district issued a statement on Friday announcing that it will conduct distance learning during the shutdown, provide packets to students who need them and work with the “Blackfeet Tribe to deliver meals in bulk once a week to our students and their families.” Fall sports practices and games will be canceled for the 14-day period.
“The action was taken to help keep our community safe and to support the tribal shutdown order,” Browning Superintendent of Schools Corrina Guardipee said.
The Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command said “law enforcement will be on full force to cite and fine individuals not complying with the shut down,” and that more details about the lockdown will be forthcoming.
As of Friday, Glacier County had 94 active cases and hundreds of people under quarantine. The Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command reported on Thursday that the Blackfeet Care Center, a nursing home, had three more presumptive positive cases, bringing the total cases there to six, including four staff and two residents.
For more information, contact the Blackfeet Tribe at (406) 338-3513 or (406) 338-2946.