Providing for the community from crackers to BBQ sauce

Elder/Veterans Feed in Crow Agency serves meals to 70, provides 250 bags of groceries
Thursday, March 7, 2019
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Photo by Andrew Turck

Marie Rogers smiles for the camera Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 27 as she serves food to some of the roughly 70 people who arrived to the Elder/Veterans Feed in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building for a meal.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Local elder Rosaline Yellowmule receives a bag of groceries from Elder/Veterans Feed co-organizer Ruby Ward.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Niki Stewart (left) and Ruby Ward worked to organize the Elder/Veterans Feed. They hope to make the feeds a monthly event.

Acommunity effort spurred forward by Crow Reservation residents Niki Stewart and Ruby Ward brought an Elder/Veterans Feed on Wednesday, Feb. 27 to Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building.

With the help of volunteers, they filled an estimated 250 grocery bags to give away to elders and veterans in attendance. They also prepared a lunch of beans, potato salad and pulled pork sandwiches, and served it to about 70 people.

“I didn’t think we would actually get to this point,” said tribal media liaison Jared Stewart, who also served as spokesperson for the event at his wife Niki’s request. “When [Niki] was talking about all of this…things started slowly trickling in, and all of a sudden I have all this food and all these supplies in my living room.”

The day before the event, he said, young people volunteered to fill the grocery bags with supplies, such as “crackers or beans or rice or flour or Splendas or canned goods or barbecue sauce.”

“Once they started doing that, it was pretty amazing to see,” he said. “That was all done by hand.”

Sylvester Knows His Gun, an inspector for the Crow Tribe, attended the event during his lunch hour after learning about it two days prior from a poster. It was enjoyable to see “the younger ones” putting together such an event, he said, adding that it gave elders and veterans social as well as economic benefits.

“I think of some of the older folks who don’t get to interact socially these days; they get older and start feeling neglected,” he said. “I noticed these types of things bring them out. You’ll see them conversing, you’ll see them interacting with other folks. It is a really nice opportunity for a lot of them.”

Elder feeds tend to occur around Thanksgiving and Christmas, though according to attendee Rex Chavez of Crow Agency’s Songbird Daycare, he doesn’t remember one being hosted in February. He has remained financially stable with his maintenance and janitorial work, he continued, but “there are almost no jobs around here” and “we all need help.”

“I’ve been bumped up from one job to the next,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know how I’m doing it.”

According to Jared, the lack of jobs partially stemmed from reductions in both Crow tribal finances and revenue from coal production.

Traveling for food requires fuel, he continued, and therefore money. Crow Agency residents no longer have the option of shopping at Crow Mercantile, formerly the town’s main source of groceries, as it was closed indefinitely on Feb. 1 due to extensive damage from an internal fire. Now, aside from Apsaalooke Trading Post, they either have Reese & Ray’s IGA about 14 miles to the northwest in Hardin or Little Horn IGA about 23 to the south in Lodge Grass.

“Even though there are resources in the area, it still requires travel to get there,” Jared said, “so at least if we have it in the Multipurpose, it’s a centralized area.”

Mary Louise LaForge, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War, arrived to the feed and soon began attempting to contact fellow veterans. As an outreach worker for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, LaForge said, she is the only one on the reservation whose job description mandates connecting Crow veterans to benefits because on “the tribal side, it’s long gone.”

Her “main purpose,” she said, is to get psychological help for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She operates out of Apsaalooke Warrior Apartments in Crow Agency, located just west of town on the south side of St. Xavier Road.

“I’m glad someone else is picking up and wanting to help the veterans,” she said regarding the feed. “A lot of our veterans are elderly, too, so that’s like two in one.”

Many veterans, she said, have a “hard time” accounting for “food and other needs,” though other groups have been helpful as well, such as the Veterans Meat Locker in Billings, founded December 2016 by Chris and Kristin Grudzinski. Funded through donations, the organization offers professionally processed wild game at no charge for veterans with proof of service. The Meat Locker is located on the corner of Main Street and Judith Lane, and its phone number is 406-860-9683.

LaForge “would love” to start a nonprofit organization in a similar vein to the Meat Locker, she said, but she currently is dealing with health issues and “there’s so much paperwork.”

“[Chris] donated a freezer for us; it’s in my office,” La-Forge said. “He tries to fill it at least once a week.”

Aid from both in and outside Big Horn County, Jared said, allowed the Elder/Veterans Feed to work. According to him, Lucky’s Market in Billings provided the grocery bags, Texas ministry group Mission:M25 “gave a lot of canned food,” and both Niki and Ward collected donations for weeks in preparation for the event.

Local volunteers joined Niki and Ward to hand-deliver food packages to their particular areas, including Alta White Clay, Faith Pease and finally Bryce Hugs – a Crow senator from the Arrow Creek District who traveled at least 150 miles round-trip.

“They just took it upon themselves to reach out to the community,” he said. “We always talk about trying to speak for those who can’t speak and, through this act, this is one of those things.”

According to Niki, she intends to make the Elder/Veterans Feed a monthly event. Two more feeds are scheduled in the Multipurpose Building on March 27 and April 24.