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Photo: Anna Sutterer

Spirit of the Sun Coordinates Food Banks to Serve All

Resilience in Native community drives the organization to feed families in need through COVID-19.

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“Feeding people is a revolutionary act in the United States,” says Walter Barret, a volunteer with Spirit of the Sun (SOTS), a Native American community resource organization. “It shouldn’t be.”

Barret’s been moving tons of food around since 1979, a trade he didn’t plan for but nonetheless views as the greatest gift. He started gathering with Denver’s Spirit of the Sun during their effort to support the Standing Rock resistance movement. Now, he’s filling his pickup with boxes of donated goods, helping SOTS distribute food to their community, those in need, and anyone who shows up to the Monday/Thursday pop-up food bank behind HEAL Denver at 8th and Santa Fe.

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Laid across pop-up tables and piled on the asphalt on Thursday, August 6 were chips, tea, chicken nuggets, apple sauce, conchas (sweet bread), and boxes of milk. Flakes of onion skins flew as the team prepared produce bags. What SOTS gives through its food bank is emblematic of the COVID shakeup; a jumble of what’s available to meet immediate needs. In steadier times, there’s more room for intention in the group’s food outreach.

“Ancestrally, a lot of these foods come from Africa or Eurasia, they don’t really come from Turtle Island [North America],” says Stephen Dauhon, grant writer for SOTS. “Usually what we would do with Four Winds [American Indian Council] is do Indigenous cooking classes where we try to incorporate some of the food into a traditional dish based on various nations around here. We’re just in a little bit of a toss-up right now.”

Photo: Anna Sutterer

In addition to food education—a foundational knowledge of traditional, nutritious, and sustainable food as a path to health and wellness—Spirit of the Sun, based in Denver, works with Native American communities in urban areas and on reservations through programs focusing on economic mobility, environmental stewardship, and cultural preservation.

The food bank, says Vista Corps Youth Engagement and Outreach Coordinator Sommers Taylor, is a great way to engage with Native families. According to Dauhon, they’re serving about 24. Taylor and the SOTS team have arranged virtual beading classes and all-ages yoga to keep them engaged. Mentoring and e-commerce financial literacy programs are planned to restart in late September or early October.

“Our hope is that they do build activists and community leaders,” says Taylor. “[However], the biggest proponent of it would be the cultural resiliency.”

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With the food, Native folks coming to the bank are provided resource information and take a survey, “to get a pulse in the community,” says Dauhon, about what’s needed in terms of rental assistance, hygienic products, and outreach to houseless relatives.

To find more information about Spirit of the Sun initiatives, see the SOTS Facebook page: facebook.com/spiritofthesun1. For volunteer opportunities, email contact@spiritofthesun.org.

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