Disabled U.S. Marine Corps veteran J.C. Wilson drove his silver Nissan Versa into the parking lot of the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center Tuesday, where volunteers loaded it down with everything from fresh tomatoes, avocadoes and apples to canned milk and crackers.
He was among 125 veterans or widows of veterans to benefit from the tribe’s new mobile food pantry established with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.
The new arrangement started Tuesday with 10,000 pounds of food and will offer mobile pantries to veterans quarterly at the tribe in Tahlequah.
“Anytime you can get help with food it’s great, especially with the price of groceries getting higher,” said Wilson, of Tahlequah. “I’m disabled and retired, but I do work with the color guard and think this will help a lot of veterans. I’m proud of Cherokee Nation for doing this.”
Principal Chief Bill John Baker shook veterans’ hands as they drove up, and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden helped load food.
“As a veteran myself, it means so much to know that our state, our community and our Nation is working together to help our veterans,” said Crittenden, a U.S. Navy veteran. “At the end of the month, times can get a little rough for some of our veterans working to feed their families, and this is such a great partnership that we get to celebrate today with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. I know that we are making a world of difference in the lives of so many veterans and their families.”
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, based in Tulsa, serves about 110,000 veterans and their families in their service area. Its partnership with the Cherokee Nation is the first in Tahlequah and among tribes in Oklahoma.
“The Cherokee Nation is off to a fantastic start. This food pantry is highly organized, and you can see people interacting and having a good time but also doing the right thing for veterans,” said Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma Outreach Coordinator James “Jim” Lyall. “We have more than 6,000 veterans in Cherokee County, so it’s great that we can expand our circle to Cherokee veterans.”
John Christie, of Hulbert, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, also received food from the mobile pantry Tuesday.
“I think it helps and am glad they are doing this for veterans. I wasn’t eligible for the food distribution center, but I am retired and every little bit helps,” Christie said.
Cherokee Nation Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd; U.S. Congressman and Cherokee Nation citizen Markwayne Mullin; William Barnes, veterans and military representative for Congressman Mullin; and Jeff Underwood, field representative for U.S. Senator James Lankford’s office, also volunteered Tuesday to sort and load food.
The Cherokee Nation identified and distributed tickets to veterans in need for the mobile food pantry. The next delivery is scheduled for August.
The Mobile Pantry Program creates a farmers market-style of food distribution in rural communities. Fresh produce, bakery items and nonperishable food items are distributed. Through its Veterans Outreach Program, the food bank provides food to veterans through the Claremore, Verdigris and Poteau Disabled American Veterans chapters. In addition, plans are underway to also begin a mobile pantry at the Veterans Colony in Wilburton.
The Cherokee Nation also offers a food distribution program at the tribe that some veterans may qualify for. For more information on the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center and food pantry, call 918-772-4166.
As a member of the national Feeding America network, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma delivers nutritious food to clients in the 24 counties of eastern Oklahoma through its network of 465 Partner Programs. For more information about the food bank, visit okfoodbank.org or call 918-585-2800.