While Americans quarantined this spring due to the coronavirus, agricultural producers found themselves with enormous surpluses of food typically used by restaurants, event venues and other closed businesses.
The United States Department of Agriculture began the $1.4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program in April as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to get some of those surpluses to citizens. Citizen Potawatomi Nation District 4 Legislator Jon Boursaw organized the Tribe’s participation as a local branch to help distribute that food to Potawatomi throughout northeastern Kansas.
“We’ve all seen the news reports and the pictures of farmers dumping milk and plowing the vegetable farms under and all of that. That’s what this program is all about, is helping those farmers and individuals out, plus helping our Tribal members out. It’s just a big program for all of America,”
Tracey Kinderknecht said. She is the CPN Senior Support Network RN in Rossville with experience on these types of projects and greatly assisted Boursaw with planning and organizing the distribution.
Each week, 300 distribution centers across the country distribute boxes filled with produce, dairy and meat to nonprofits and other community entities to give to citizens. Boursaw, CPN staff and volunteers handed them out for the first time at the beginning of June.
“In the produce box, there was like three potatoes, three apples, two tomatoes, as well as a couple of oranges, zucchini, and a bag of carrots and two onions. It was an assortment, but as you know, it’s a staple that people need,” Boursaw said.
The broader Rossville community came together to make District 4’s participation possible. On Saturday, May 30, the Director of Food Services at the Topeka Rescue Mission Mike Shinkle contacted Boursaw and asked if the Tribe would participate. On the following Monday morning, the Tribal legislator met with Kinderknecht, CPN Rossville housing manager Lyman Boursaw and housing maintenance technician Mike Martin to ask their opinion on the Nation’s involvement. They all supported the idea and prepared for a trial run in less than a week. They rented a refrigerated truck to haul the food from Topeka to Rossville, which remains the single cost of the operation.
“We bring that food out here to Rossville, which is about 25 miles from the rescue mission, to our parking lot. And we will start distributing that to the Tribal members and whoever has signed up for it. They’ll be coming to the parking lot to pick up their boxes,” Boursaw said.
Lynette Hudson, wife of Tribal member Kevin Hudson, gathered a dozen local 4-H’ers to volunteer for the first distribution day. The team handed out 76 produce boxes, and the number quickly rose by word of mouth to more than 100 by the end of the week. The program serves seven counties around Topeka, home to an estimated 400 to 500 CPN families. Kinderknecht, and her co-worker CNA Sharron Long, also take boxes to the elders in Tribal housing in Rossville and deliver to those they see during home care visits.
“I think that with this pandemic, they’re finding out that we need to provide for our own people with the food that is produced here in the United States,” Kinderknecht said. “We just have to get it distributed out to the people somehow, so that we don’t have to buy internationally or ship out. We can sustain ourselves here if we want to.”
The Farmers to Families program is free and open to all CPN members in the Topeka and Rossville areas with no eligibility requirements. The program will continue through the end of August with pick up on Thursdays at the CPN Community Center, 806 Nishnabe Trail, Rossville, KS 66533. Boxes must be requested by Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. each week by calling 785-584-6171 or emailing email@example.com.