Members of Southern Cherokee Tribe in Phelps County are proud of their culture and history. They describe their ancestors as courageous, honorable and loyal—traits they aspire to, as well.
They are also hungry.
The population of about 500 Southern Cherokee living in and around Phelps County is so impoverished that social service agencies in the area reached out to The Food Bank seeking assistance. The problem? Many members were reluctant to accept help from outsiders.
That is where tribal leaders have stepped in. Chief Steve Matthews and his wife, Darla, have worked closely with The Food Bank to get food to fellow Tribe members.
Many have warmed up to the idea of accepting food at a Mobile Pantry, where Matthews and other Southern Cherokee leaders volunteer.
“Tribe members wouldn’t go otherwise,” Matthews said. “When people they know are running it, they are more comfortable.”
The pantry is now serving nearly 100 families, about a quarter of which are members of the Tribe.
“This really helps,” said Travis, a client and volunteer. “A million times, thank you to those who
donate and the generosity of those who help with this.”
Ancestors of the Southern Cherokee were among the first Federally Recognized Band of the
Cherokee Nation and the group that ultimately followed Major Ridge to Oklahoma prior to the Trail of Tears.
The Tribe later sought refuge in Southern Missouri. The state was not welcoming, forcing many to live in isolation. The result has been limited access to education, nutrition-related health issues and generational poverty.
“We relied on hunting and fishing, and to a great extent, many of us still do,” Matthews said. “But the Mobile Pantry helps out a lot. Everybody loves it.”