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Lakota Country Times: Program brings healthy food to Pine Ridge

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Lakota Country Times editor. For more news, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times. All content © Lakota Country Times.

Students at the Loneman School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo from Facebook

Program works to provide kids with proper nutrition
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

LONEMAN—For students on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation finding access to healthy and nutrient dense foods is often a struggle for a variety of reasons. Thanks to the help of Loneman School and their partnership with the non-profit organization Conscious Alliance students are now receiving help in meeting their dietary needs.

“Each week 230 students are sent home with a back pack full of food. The students then bring the backpack back on Monday,” said Alicia Stolley, assistant principle at Loneman. “We are trying to focus on the healthy side of it and the kids are always giving suggestions on what kind of stuff they would want to see in it.”

With only a couple of grocery stores serving the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation many parents are faced with the dilemma of driving the extra miles and paying the extra costs that accompany providing healthy foods for their children. For parents across the reservation this dilemma is an everyday struggle in Oglala Lakota County. Encompassed by the borders of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Oglala Lakota County, annually ranks as one of poorest communities in the entire United States.. The difficulty in accessing healthy foods has contributed to a number of social ills including high rates of diabetes, low graduation rates, and an array of other social problems and one of the lowest life expectancies in the country.

Amongst a wide variety of issues facing children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation one key component of early childhood development is often lost in the shuffle—nutrition. According to experts in the field of early childhood development children who reach their nutritional goals are less likely to suffer from diabetes later in life, are more likely to score higher on standardized test scores, and are less prone to behavior problems. For a community like Loneman that does not have its own grocery store the additional meal one time a week makes a major difference for many of its children.

Isna Wica Owawaya, Loneman School, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo from Facebook

“In some cases we have multiple children from a home and each get to take home a back pack,” said Stolley. “Sometimes the students come back and tell us that their mom or grandma cooked it up for them.”

Unlike other communities across the country it is a given that at Loneman some students will return home from school wondering where exactly there next meal may be coming from, however, with the help of Conscious Alliance students are provided with organic macaroni and cheese, all-natural almond butter, a nutrient dense smoothie, granola bars and fruit. According to the school anywhere from 30%-70% of its students come to school lacking proper nutrition and the program that is in its infancy is helping to better prepare its students for the rigors of academia.

Based in Boulder, CO, the non-profit Conscious Alliance has provided over 1.9 million meals to families in the United States and has been a presence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation since 2002. The pilot program that is in operation at Loneman is now sending students home with a backpack of food each week is the first of its kind and something that the organization would like to expand to other schools if the resources are available.

“We have been active in Pine Ridge since 2002. We have a food bank that has been open since then but over the last 5-8 years our youth programming has become more of a central focus,” said Trey Jones. In 2013 we started a community garden and are now having clinics on drum making for the youth.”

Jones says that much of the work that the program has done could not have been accomplished without the help of Floyd and Natalie Hand who have been partners with the program since its arrival on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

To contribute to the program you can visit Conscious Alliance’s website at

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