Cherokee Nation distributes more than 13,000 ready-made meals to Cherokee elders

From left, Cherokee Nation Family Assistance Cook Foreman Josie Cheater, Family Assistance Assistant Manager Crystal Thomas, Family Assistance nutrition aide Anthony Pritchett, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner and Chief of Staff Todd Enlow with ready-made meals being provided for Cherokee elders.

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation has distributed more than 13,000 ready-made meals to keep Cherokee elders fed after many senior nutrition sites temporarily closed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The Cherokee Nation partnered with Hunger Free Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization based out of Tulsa to bring nutritious restaurant-quality meals to Cherokee elders who typically depend on senior nutrition centers to get their daily meals.

Funding for the elder meals is part of the Cherokee Nation’s COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild spending plan announced by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in May. The ready-made meals are just one portion of the Cherokee Nation’s largest emergency food distribution in Cherokee history, carried out to help elderly and disabled Cherokees have food security as they stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of our everyday routines to come to a halt, and this can’t be said more for our elders who rely on our meal services through our senior nutrition program,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “As an alternative, we are providing ready-made meals that can be safely picked up at one of our senior nutrition centers throughout the Cherokee Nation. Putting our elders first is always our top priority at Cherokee Nation, and with our COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan, we are able to do even more to help our elders and ensure they get the nutritious meals they need.”

Each week, a chef from the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma designs a menu of meals specifically created to meet the nutritional needs of senior citizens. The meals are prepared by the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, flash-frozen and then distributed to Cherokee Nation-affiliated senior nutrition centers throughout the tribe’s 14-county reservation.

A team of Cherokee Nation employees helps distribute the meals to each senior nutrition site using the new refrigerated trucks also purchased with a portion of the tribe’s CARES Act funding. 

The tribe receives 2,800 ready-made meals per week to be distributed to the senior centers. At distribution, each elder receives five meals for the week. Each contains a well-balanced nutritious meal, and can be either reheated in a microwave or in an oven.

“The meals offered at our senior nutrition centers are a lifeline for our Cherokee elders who are homebound or who are not able to cook anymore. So, when our sites had to close their doors in an effort to keep our elders safe during COVID-19, many lost their weekly resource for lunch or dinner,” said Chief of Staff Todd Enlow. “With the COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild funding, we are able to make sure our elders continue to safely receive their daily meals. Our sites are set up to with a drive-through style distribution, which is meant to provide them meals in a way that is contactless.”

Elders who participated in the tribe’s senior nutrition program prior to the COVID-19 pandemic are being contacted by senior nutrition staff to set up a day and time to pick up their meals each week.

Elders who are not participants of the tribe’s senior nutrition program can sign up to receive meals. Eligible participants must be a Cherokee Nation citizen age 50 or older, and live within the Cherokee Nation’s 14-county reservation boundaries.

Elders who would like to receive the ready-made meals can call (918) 453-5000, extensions 3907, 5337 or 5627, before 12 p.m. on Fridays to participate in the following week’s distribution.

Home deliveries are limited at this time. If an elder is unable to pick up their meals, they are encouraged to request a family member or neighbor to pick up the meals for them. If an elder is unable to designate someone to pick up their meals, they can call the numbers provided above and a staff member will locate someone to make the delivery.

Elder meals can be picked up at one of the following senior nutrition centers:

Porum Senior Center, located at Wheeler Estates, Quapaw Street

Oaks Senior Center, located at 324 E. Cherokee

Wisdom Keepers, located at 1286 W. Fourth Street in Tahlequah

Caney/Tailholt Senior Center, located at 26229 E. 813 Road in Welling

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