Promoting Lasting Change for Native American Youth on our 38th Anniversary

Promoting Lasting Change for Native American Youth on our 38th Anniversary

Since its inception nearly 40 years ago, Running Strong has made it its mission to empower and create a positive impact on our Native American youth. Through our programs and initiatives, we have created an environment that values tribal pride and indigenous knowledge where young people can realize their full potential and make a true impact on their communities.

Developing Food Sovereignty

Good nutrition is the foundation for a child’s healthy development. However, due to the remoteness and geographic isolation, many Native American Communities on reservations live without consistent access to high-quality grocery stores and, with that, fresh fruits and vegetables. As a result, food scarcity, obesity, and diabetes have become epidemics in Indian Country.

Activists and leaders want Indigenous communities to have more control over their food supply.  This overwhelming need to gain food sovereignty is why Running Strong is so dedicated to the success of our food programs, which focus on sustainability and self-sufficiency.

Medicine Root Gardening Program

The Medicine Root Gardening Program is a 9-month-long course that teaches Native American families on the Pine Ridge Reservation how to successfully plan, plot, and plant organic home gardens. 

These organic home gardens not only feed a family and teach children healthy eating habits, but they also provide an opportunity for seasonal income by selling surplus produce at the local farmer’s market or canning for the winter. The Medicine Root Gardening Program also provides accounting lessons to help these families plan. 

The program served people in 13 communities in all nine districts of the vast reservation on the Great Plains of South Dakota, where the growing season is short. In 2023 alone, 41,752 pounds of fresh produce were harvested and distributed throughout the community!

The Medicine Root Mobile Market

Twice a week it makes regularly scheduled stops in the most remote parts of the reservation so that residents can purchase fresh produce, including prioritizing homes of elders. In addition, last summer, Running Strong made distributions of fresh produce bags to families who could not afford to buy them at the markets, even with the relatively modest prices.

The mobile market is qualified to accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards that allow SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants to buy healthy, fresh foods instead of high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar, highly processed food that is much more readily available on the reservation.

‘Smart Sack’ Backpack Food Program

The ‘Smart Sack’ Backpack Food Program combats the lack of food students have over the weekends when they are not able to rely on the free school breakfast and lunch programs. On Fridays, children are provided with a backpack filled with healthy and shelf-stable foods such as milk, soups, oatmeal, and more to take home so they have something to eat on the weekends. Each year, we distribute 17,820 Smart Sacks to two tribal communities—Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin and Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. 

Summer Youth Feeding Program

Lastly, our Summer Youth Feeding Program ensures that even over the summer months, students are able to keep up their strength and nutrition when the free school breakfast and lunch programs are not available. Each summer our program feeds Native youth from June to August – five days a week across three different community centers on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation This initiative will provide an impressive total of 19,600 meals and “grab-n-go” snack bags this summer alone.

Improving Access to Food

Together, we’ve made a real difference. Since starting our inkind food program:

Food Boxes filled with meat, fruits, vegetables, bread, rice, pasta, tomato sauce and more reached families in 8 Native communities.

Smart Sacks filled with applesauce, shelf-stable milk, oatmeal, beans, soup, pasta, canned tuna, and more fed hundreds of children in three native communities each weekend.

It is our hope that through our Running Strong programs as well as the generous support of our partners and people like you, these gardens, markets, and food delivery programs improve the health, well-being and economic outlook of these communities by reducing food insecurity, reducing malnutrition, and increasing access to better foods for families.

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