Feeding the Region: Aruqutet 2022 Project
Calista Food Security Grant Provides Timely Aid to Y-K Families
Storyknife, Sept/Oct 2022 edition
In a year when many of our Region’s households were not able to put up fish due to multiple salmon run collapses, Calista Corporation was able to fund a massive food distribution program.
In January 2022, Calista announced a $1.6 million grant to the Bethel Community Services Foundation (BCSF) to initiate a food security program to provide food boxes to households throughout the Calista Region. This followed a directive from the Board of Directors for Calista staff to determine an appropriate way to spend any CARES Act Tribal Relief funds remaining after the deadline for Shareholders to request direct financial assistance.
“It is a blessing we were able to allocate these funds to food assistance in a year when our entire Region suffered from one disastrous fish run after another,” said Thom Aparuk Leonard, Calista Vice President of Corporate Affairs and a Chevak Tribal member.
“Several people came up to me and grabbed my hand and held it. Made eye contact. And you could feel that energy passing between us and just be grateful.” – Deborah Michael, BCSF Food Outreach Specialist
With Calista’s oversight and strict compliance with federal CARES Act requirements, BCSF created the Aruqutet 2022 Project to administer Calista’s food distribution grant to the communities in the Region.
Over a five-month period, ending in late August, Aruqutet staff worked with Y-K Tribes and local stores on the best way to deliver the food to local communities —by ice road, boat and plane. Before any food was purchased, Aruqutet also conducted an online survey to determine what food items were most desirable. Those turned out to be flour, sugar, rice, pilot bread, and ground beef.
The name of the project was recommended by Yup’ik Elder Mary Beaver, after a discussion of the different words in Yup’ik meaning types of gifts. She told BSCF ‘Aruqutet’ would be a good word because it means ‘to distribute.’
In a meeting with Calista staff in Bethel in mid-August, Aruqutet staff said their experience delivering food to Y-K communities was challenging, inspiring, and humbling.
“Not having food—I know from personal experience how hard that is. Being able to be part of a program like this, to bring just a little bit of food stability to a family in need, it’s very humbling. I was very honored and humbled to be part of a program like this,” said Carey (Gusty) Atchak, BCSF Food Security Coordinator.
When the Aruqutet team members traveled to villages, they were regularly greeted by local volunteers and Tribal leaders who helped them unload food boxes and prepare for community distribution, and many local residents approached them during the distribution events to express their gratitude.
“Several people came up to me and grabbed my hand and held it. Made eye contact. And you could feel that energy passing between us and just be grateful,” said Deborah Michael, BCSF Food Outreach Specialist.