During Native American Heritage Month, Feeding America is elevating the voices and stories of Native American leaders throughout the food bank network, and the incredible work they’re doing to feed their communities.
“It’ll take a lifetime to give back all that was given to me,” Sally Latimer said at the start of another busy day at the Monacan Indian Nation Food Bank in central Virginia, which works with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
Sally is the co-director of the pantry. That day, she and her staff of four were preparing for a contactless distribution, serving Native American families in their community.
When Sally joined the food pantry in 2018, she wanted to help her tribe. One in five Native Americans face hunger, and Monacans, she said, have long been discriminated against in rural Amherst County.
But through the food bank, she hoped to build community and understanding for everyone. After all, Sally knew what it was like to be hungry.
About a decade earlier, her husband passed away, and she became the sole provider for her young son. The money she made working in childcare wasn’t enough to cover all their bills.
“There’s a stereotype that people that go to food banks are lazy,” she said. “The majority of the people that we serve are working people.”
As co-director, Sally has found ways to reach her community where they are. She and the staff deliver groceries if someone is sick or doesn’t have a car, and they call clients every week to check in and confirm appointments. They hold dinners for elders and hope to start a hot meals delivery program for low-income neighborhoods.
Sally and her staff want to provide better quality foods to their community. Fruits, vegetables, and meats are the most common request, she said.
Recently, they planted a garden and plan to distribute fruits and vegetables, including some traditional Monacan foods like Tutelo Strawberry Corn and amaranth.
“Every time I hand a bag of food to someone, it’s me giving back just a tiny bit of what was given to me,” she said. “For me, there is no more perfect job.”