COWETA, Okla. — The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Food Distribution Program is expanding the service jurisdiction to include the cities of Broken Arrow and Muskogee, while celebrating 41 years serving tribal families.
The Koweta location will serve program participants living in the added jurisdictional area.
Applications are available online. For those who are not technologically proficient, or lack internet access, they can register in person at their respective location with the required documents.
Citizens enrolled in a federally recognized tribe living within the Muscogee reservation boundaries can bring their citizenship cards, Social Security cards for all household members, a current utility bill with name and address, and proof of income from the past 30 days. Home delivery is available for elderly and disabled participants.
The income guideline starts with a household of one with an income of $1,326. For each additional member, $394 is added. A household of five would need an income below $2,935. A deduction of $400 for utility and additional medicare/medicaid deductions are considered.
MCN Food Distribution Services Director Anna Sterner and Training and Compliance Coordinator Anita Watashe submitted the Urban Waiver Request to the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) on Jan 23.
On March 21, Sterner received the email that the request would be fulfilled.
Anticipating a response, Sterner and Watashe were surprised to see the United States Department of Agriculture approved the waiver due to it being denied previously.
It is a USDA regulation that residents of cities with a population of 10,000 or greater are not eligible for benefits. These cities within the Muscogee Reservation include Broken Arrow, Muskogee, Sand Springs, and Tulsa.
According to the USDA, urban areas apparently have more access to SNAP offices and other food benefits programs.
“When the program was open, it was intended for families in rural areas,” Sterner said. This waiver will allow us to serve inside the city limits of Muskogee and Broken Arrow.”
Tulsa and Sand Springs are still excluded.
Depending on how the current staff handle the added caseload, it will determine if more staff will be hired before applying for the next urban waiver.
“We have enough (staff) to go back to where we were,” Sterner said. “We are looking to bring our participation to where it was.”
According to Sterner, the FDP served 3,100-3,500 families a month pre-covid. Watashe claims that number has currently dropped to 1,200 families a month.
“The next waiver we will apply for is Sand Springs,” She said. Sterner added the request was due in part to losing over half of the program’s participation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She claimed the participants left the program to receive the increasing emergency benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Package (SNAP). With the end in sight for the national public health emergency, SNAP benefits have returned to pre-Covid eligibility.
“Now that SNAP has stopped the increased benefits, we have increased a little bit not near what we had,” Sterner said.
It has the potential to serve over 4,000 Muscogee families in the area in addition to eligible families of other tribes.
“We are starting off slow to see the caseload that will be put on us,” Sterner said.
The citizenship office provided the FDP with the number of citizens living within those cities with 2,162 residing in Muskogee and 2,802 in Broken Arrow.
With over 41 years of service, Watashe has worked for the program since 1989. She has experienced many shifts in service types and locations during her time.
“When I first started, they would come in and I would write down what they wanted on an issuance card,” Watashe said. “I would take it to the guys in the back and they would fill it.”
Between pick up, drive through, tailgating, pick and pull, home delivery, and store concept, Watahse claims the store concept has been the most successful type of servicing.
“At first they were hesitant,” Watashe said. Using a menu, the participants would come in to guide their shopping. “Now some of them don’t even need a menu,” she said.
She remembers a time when the program made trips to each rural community.
“We would go to the communities twice a month,” Watsashe said. “We would issue the benefits out of a truck.”
Watashe created The MCN Food Distribution Facebook page for those interested in following the program.
The MCN FDP plans on hosting a “41st Anniversary” celebration and open house to showcase the newly remodeled Okmulgee location. The celebration will be announced on the Facebook page.
For further information, visit the programs’ web page or call the nearest location.
|Koweta Center||31820 E State Highway 51, Coweta, OK 74429||918-549-2412|
|Okmulgee Center||3001 N. Wood Drive, Okmulgee, OK 74447||918-549-2401|
|Wetumka Center||614 Spokoke Circle, Wetumka, OK 74883||405-452-1175|