The Scarcity of Winter: Feeding our Community

The Scarcity of Winter: Feeding our Community

On the heels of an incredibly inspiring UnThanksgiving event in NAYA’s community garden, and an amazingly bountiful harvest this year, the reality that our community continues to face food insecurity comes sharply into focus.  

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have prepared for the scarcity of winter with traditional ways of preserving and putting food by. The Spring Solstice, a time of rejoicing and gratitude, marked a shift from scarcity to plenty. The arrival of the first foods was significant, as it marked the end of hunger and the beginning of abundance.  

Today, food insecurity is a critical concern for many Native families. Food Services Coordinator Collin Chavez-McCormack shared that the winter seasons are when our community members utilize the food pantry the most. “This year we got a lot of fresh produce for our food pantry from our community garden. Donations from our local community helps us get through leaner times.” said Chavez-McCormack.   

The winter season can also be a difficult time for elders who have limited resources and limited ability to access food. Elder Advocate Lawrence Macy affirmed that NAYA is one of the few programs in Portland that provide direct food services to elders specifically.   

“A lot of times our elders are not able to get the foods that they want. It’s up to us to be able to provide it for them because they cannot go out and get it,” said Macy.   










We recently sat down with NAYA Director of Family Services and Oregon State Representative Tawna Sanchez to talk about the importance of food and NAYA’s food programs.   

What are the greatest needs for our community in wintertime?   

There is a level of food insecurity. It’s also the reality for folks who just financially are not prepared–when you live on a lower income you don’t necessarily have the ability to save money or hold money back for things like healthy food.    

Holidays tend to be at a time where people think or feel that they just don’t have enough. And they’re not able to provide on the level that they should be able to–it makes people feel really uncomfortable that they don’t have the capacity to provide food.   

How does NAYA address those needs?   

We’ve always made food available. We have a food pantry here at NAYA. During the Thanksgiving holiday, NAYA provided turkeys and hams for the community, and we worked really hard to pull that together. We’re very thankful for some folks like Fred Meyer and Kaiser who donated and made it possible for us to pull that together for our community. 

We are a congregate meal site for elders; we serve breakfast and lunch to our students and staff and offer meals to our after-school program participants. We provide meals at community gatherings held at NAYA and deliver meals to our Early Head Start kids off site–breakfast, lunch, snacks, whatever, we are feeding people!    

Why is providing meals and food so important to NAYA?   

Food is very important to the Native community. We gather around food, and we don’t do much in the Native community without food. It is a very distinct cultural value in being able to have food, gift food, or bring food as an offering. We have ceremony that is specifically around food–recognizing those first huckleberries, those first roots, those first fish, are so very, very important to us culturally. 

Being able to bring that to the native community as a resource, as nutritional value – to bring in fresh fruits and vegetables and those types of things for our community is just a huge value. Being able to bring in fresh nutritious fruits and vegetables is a shift and a change from when people were put on reservations and forced to eat things that are not necessarily healthy for us. 

How long has NAYA been providing meals?    

We always had some level of food. Anytime we had a meeting or gathering there was always some kind of food that someone brought or made or that NAYA would buy. One of my very first jobs as a teenager was a Summer Cedar job at NAYA, we would have snacks and food at every event. When we moved into our campus at Neerchokikoo, we had to remodel the kitchen to upgrade it from a warming kitchen to be able to cook in it. It’s now designed to provide all of these meals to our community. During the pandemic, our kitchen produced 2,000 meals a week that we delivered to our Elders and families.  

How does NAYA support our elders?   

Our Elders room has its own refrigerator/freezer combo, where we can put daily meals prepared by our kitchen, so that any Elder who missed congregate mealtime can take meals home to warm up. The freezer is stocked with packaged meals, also made by our kitchen. The Elders’ Room also has a mini-food pantry so any elder can just take whatever they want and whenever they need.  

If somebody wants a food box, we certainly give it to them. During this past holiday we worked hard to make sure that we had turkeys and hams to distribute to our community. We especially wanted to make sure that our elders got what they needed, and importantly, that they felt comfortable just taking whatever they needed. 

Anything else to add?  

Health disparities due to poverty in the Native community are an issue. People struggle to maintain really good healthy food resources for their families–good food costs money. Our traditional foods are very expensive to buy. Being able to provide salmon or being able to teach people how to can huckleberries to help our people eat healthy foods is so very, very important. 

You can help! During the holidays and through the winter months as our community garden rests, NAYA continues to provide the food that our community needs. While food donations are gladly accepted, financial donations are much needed to help pay for supplies and staff time to manage the kitchen and the pantry.

Help provide food for our Native community by donating to NAYA today. Your financial support can help an elder stay fed through the holidays and through the scarcity of winter. Your donation will give our families a warm and happier holiday season! 

Make a donation here

If you are interested in donating food or other items, contact Food Services Coordinator Collin Chavez-McCormack at Here is a list of items our pantry is currently accepting: