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Crow Agency Meals On Wheels Doubles Daily Servings During Pandemic

A welcome sign for Crow Country.
Olivia Reingold
Yellowstone Public Radio
A welcome sign for Crow Country

As people take precautions to avoid contracting the novel coronavirus, senior citizen programs are under increased pressure to serve those sheltering at home.

The Crow Reservation is one of the areas most impacted by the coronavirus in Montana. The reservation has been under Stay at Home orders since March. But while COVID-19 slowed down many businesses, the local Meals on Wheels programs that address senior isolation and hunger, are working harder than ever.

Marla Little Light is the director for the senior centers in Crow Agency, Lodge Grass and Pryor. Before the pandemic, she says they served around 300 meals a day.

"Since this Covid thing started, it jumped up to 600. And it’s worked its way up to about 625 people that we feed a day. Every day. Five days a week," Little Light said.

Nationally, Meals on Wheels reports nine out of 10 community programs are seeing an increase in need. Little Light and her staff adapted their meal delivery methods to ensure safety for seniors by doing no contact food drops in disinfected containers.

"So that when the individual that we're serving comes out and gets it, they are not touching anything that's contaminated. And if they have a need, they will put a note inside that container," Little Light said.

But the 100 percent increase of need for meals has not come without a cost. The senior centers’ federal and state funding budgets were based on their previous need. To make up the difference, Little Light says she was forced to furlough some of her employees. She says the community has stepped in to help.

"We couldn't have made it on the funding that we receive from the State or the Federal without some of the donations we were getting. I mean, everybody's been so generous and it's really worked out. The tribe’s really helped out," Little Light said.

Local residents have chipped in, donating canned goods, toilet paper, and other personal care products to ensure elders don’t need to go to the grocery store. The national Meals on Wheels organization has also established an emergency COVID-19 relief fun, but disbursement is slow going.

Little Light says that those able to donate should call her.

"Contact me! This office here, the number is (406) 638-4449."

Kaitlyn Nicholas is YPR News' Report For America tribal affairs reporter.

Kaitlyn Nicholas covers tribal news in Montana.