The Shinnecock Indian Nation, anxious to keep its Southampton reservation free of the coronavirus, has launched a food distribution network to bring free meals and supplies to its more than 700 on-reservation members.
Tribal trustee Lance Gumbs, working with Shinnecock Revival Church name Pastor Curtis Terry, started the effort under a rented tent near the tribal administrative offices recently. The distribution network is working with food bank Island Harvest, Panera Bread and the Southampton School District to provide more than 525 meals a day to members.
There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus on the 800-acre reservation, Gumbs said, and the tribe wants to keep it that way. Providing a central distribution point on the reservation allows tribal members to avoid making trips to local grocery stores and potentially bringing back infection with them.
“It’s a small community, a family community and if the virus gets here it’s going to go all though this community,” he said. The plan: “keep as many people from going off or coming on to the res as possible.”
For seniors, the indigent and shut-ins, Gumbs said the network is using tribal vehicles to bring meals directly to homes. Most people stop by to pick up meals, he said.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to go out,” Gumbs said. “A lot are not coming out. And we are delivering to shut-ins, people who are homebound and seniors,” who are considered more vulnerable to infection.
Meals include 121 boxed breakfast and lunch packages daily from the Southampton School District to feed children who would otherwise attend the district’s school, as well as packages of cleaning products, paper towels and toilet paper, and canned goods, Gumbs said.
Complete boxed meals are also available every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tribal members who live off the reservation can also visit the tent for boxed meals, Gumbs said. There are more than 1,500 Shinnecock Nation members on Long Island.
Gumbs said the tribe will seek federal stimulus funds set aside for Indian tribes to help offset the costs.
“This is the first time we’ve ever faced anything like this,” he said. "Not just the [Shinnecock] Nation but everybody."