Crisis care: Center Pole distributes nearly 200,000 lbs of food

Rusty LaFrance
Thursday, April 2, 2020
Crisis care: Center Pole distributes nearly 200,000 lbs of food
Photo by Rusty LaFrance
Peggy White Well Known Buffalo (far right) sits with her crew of volunteers, interns and employees at the Center Pole Foundation’s drive-thru. Community members who come to the Center Pole, are encouraged to stay in their vehicles to prevent possible transmission of the coronavirus.
Crisis care: Center Pole distributes nearly 200,000 lbs of food
Photo by Rusty LaFrance
A volunteer from the Center Pole Foundation places a box of food into a vehicle at a food distribution site in Crow Agency. The volunteers and loading crews at Center Pole wear gloves to keep themselves safe when clients come to the drive-thru.

For many tribal members on both the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations, the Center Pole Foundation is a life line.

The Garryowen-based organization went mobile late last year, providing food for Crow Agency, Pryor, Lodge Grass and Wyola on the Crow Indian Reservation and Lame Deer and Busby on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has added to the demand for food, as supplies at local grocery stores have fallen victim to panic buying from out of town shoppers. Peggy White Well Known Buffalo, director of the Center Pole Foundation, started the organization in 1999.

“I’ve always done emergency services for my tribe and my people, but now that amount has doubled,” White Well Known Buffalo said.

The Center Pole Foundation’s name comes from the center pole of the Sun Dance lodge, a place of great spiritual power, known to provide help for the tribe when it is needed.

During the highly anxious atmosphere surrounding the outbreak, many on the reservation are fearful of the potentially devastating effects the virus may have on rural Montana.

Center Pole’s food distribution service is keeping a lot of families afloat. Many residents are also fearful of venturing into Billings or Sheridan to purchase groceries, while others are temporarily out of work due to the outbreak and cannot afford their groceries. Distance is another factor, many residents from Big Horn County’s two reservations live in rural areas 60 to 80 minutes drive from the nearest grocery store.

Before the panic from the outbreak hit the area, Center Pole provided food boxes and other services to around 100 people a month; those numbers have dramatically increased, serving as many as 876 people in one day alone according to White Well Known Buffalo.

According to White Well Known Buffalo, Center Pole has given out nearly 200,000 pounds of food to people on both reservations.

Center Pole, with a small crew of employees and volunteers, has been working to make sure they provide those in need with the boxes of produce everyday.

“It would be helpful if people in the community would come by and help us, but with this virus we have to keep ourselves protected as well,” White Well Known Buffalo said.

In a drive-thru style format, families in need can pull up to a distribution area and have their vehicles loaded by Center Pole staff members in personal protective equipment, to keep both themselves and the clientele safe.

Center Pole also will provide a hot lunch to anyone who comes to the facility to pick up a food box during the noon hour.

“For us right now at the Center Pole, it's a lot of hard work,” White Well Known Buffalo said, “but it is for the people.”

For more information to to find out distribution locations and times, please call the Center Pole Foundation at 638- 2821 or visit their Facebook page