ADA, Oklahoma — Despite the seemingly abundance of food in the United States, more than 15 million kids go to sleep hungry every day, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The Chickasaw Nation is looking to make a small dent in those numbers. It has become the first Native American tribe in the U.S. to partner with the USDA to embrace the At-Risk Children’s Feeding Program.
According USDA Food and Nutrition services administrator Audrey Rowe, the Chickasaw Nation is the only tribal organization that is part of the program.
The tribe and the USDA have partnered for many years to promote healthy lifestyles and fight hunger. This USDA grant program is unique in that it targets at-risk children on the medical center campus, which is located in Ada, Oklahoma. If a child is examined or has a routine appointment at the medical center, the first question asked is “are you hungry or have you eaten today?” If the child answers "no," a nutritious, healthy meal is provided.
The Chickasaw Nation has a population of 57,399 according to the latest census. Among those who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native as their only race, the poverty rate was 29.1 percent in 2012, according to Pew Research.
In addition, the program will provide a meal to any child at the medical center, even if the child is not receiving medical care.
As of now, there are only two medical facilities in the nation involved in the program to ensure children are fed, Rowe said. The other is Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
“There is first-hand, innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that is going on here,” Rowe said.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby cited statistics that show one in three families in this country live in poverty and one in five children go to bed hungry.
“That is just not right. It is unconscionable for any child to go hungry. That is why we are working with the USDA to help change that.” Anoatubby said. “We are working diligently to help bring those statistics down because we’re talking about more than a statistic, we’re talking about people.”
Anoatubby said the Chickasaw Nation’s long partnership with the USDA is making it possible for the tribe to reach out and focus on young people.
This announcement comes only a few weeks after the Chickasaw Nation was awarded a grant of $9.7 million to support the Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services Demonstration Project to End Childhood Hunger, a program that will deliver food to homes with children who qualify for free school meals, Rowe announced.
That program will allow families to shop for groceries online to be delivered to their homes by the charity Feed the Children. Families will also receive benefit checks to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at authorized grocery stores.
The story first appeared in The Ada (OK.) News.