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Rural Health Information Hub

Wisconsin Tribal Elder Food Box Program

  • Need: To address food insecurity and limited access to healthy foods among Indigenous elders living in tribal nations in Wisconsin.
  • Intervention: The Tribal Elder Food Box Program distributes biweekly boxes filled with culturally relevant, locally-sourced meat, produce, and shelf-stable foods to elders in all 11 federally recognized tribal nations in Wisconsin – 10 of which are located in rural areas.
  • Results: In 2022, the program distributed 24,400 boxes and purchased a majority of food products from Indigenous producers and growers.


Great Lakes Intertribal Food Coalition Logo

The Tribal Elder Food Box Program was initiated in 2021 as a collaboration between numerous organizations, including tribal governments, Feeding Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, and healthTIDE. The program was created with a goal of addressing food insecurity in tribal nations and increasing access to culturally relevant foods, while also supporting Indigenous food producers and tribal food sovereignty. In 2023, the partner organizations formed The Great Lakes Intertribal Food Coalition.

Participating tribal nations include:

  • Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Forest County Potawatomi
  • Ho-Chunk Nation
  • Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin
  • Oneida Nation
  • Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians
  • St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin
  • Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Food boxes are distributed from tribal distribution centers every other week from May to December. All tribal elders ages 55 and over residing in a participating tribal nation are eligible to receive a box. There is no income requirement.

Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin procurement coordinators work to source as much food as possible from Indigenous producers and growers across the state. The boxes are packed with help from volunteers at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin's food bank warehouse. A coalition partner, Waupaca Food Hub Cooperative, offers refrigerator and freezer space, along with the use of refrigerated trucks for delivery to tribal food distribution centers.

The boxes typically contain 14-16 pounds of culturally relevant meats (beef, bison, venison, fish), produce (greens, fruit, corn, squash), and shelf-stable items (jam, wild rice, maple syrup). Box contents change throughout the year depending on what is in season. Each box also contains a newsletter with a recipe submitted by an Indigenous chef, along with a profile of an Indigenous producer or grower.

Services offered

Tribal Elder Food Box contents
Boxes are filled with culturally relevant foods produced by Indigenous and local farmers.

The Tribal Elder Food Box Program currently provides the following services:

  • A 14-16 pound box containing culturally relevant foods, delivered biweekly from May to December to elders (ages 55 and over) in tribal nations across Wisconsin
  • A newsletter containing recipes from Indigenous chefs and profiles of Indigenous producers and growers
  • Partnerships with Indigenous producers and growers, including grant opportunities to support additional production capacity


Packed Tribal Elder Food Box
Food boxes ready for distribution.

In 2021, the program distributed 10,800 boxes to three participating tribes. In 2022, the program distributed 24,400 boxes to elders in all 11 tribal nations in Wisconsin – 10 of which are located in rural areas. Nearly 60% of the products procured for the boxes in 2022 were purchased from Indigenous producers. Additionally, Feeding America distributed $42,000 in grant awards to eight Indigenous producers to support additional production capacity. Program coordinators anticipate distributing over 28,000 boxes in 2023.


Program coordinators identified several challenges that they have faced throughout the implementation process:

  • In the first year, establishing trust was a challenge. All partners worked hard to build relationships with each other. Now, three years into the program, the coalition and partners understand their respective roles and are committed to fulfilling their obligations. Other early challenges arose in terms of geography and logistics, scheduling with producers and product suppliers, tribal politics, and regulations.
  • Another challenge has been the need for buy-in and support from each of the 11 Tribal Nations the coalition serves, particularly regarding the distribution of food boxes. Navigating the complexities of relationships and interests among the tribes can be difficult, but everyone acknowledges the positive impact of the program. The program not only provides Indigenous and healthy foods to elders, but also supports Indigenous and local producers. By focusing on this shared goal, the coalition has fostered unity and collaboration among tribal nations to strengthen food sovereignty in the region.
  • Two significant ongoing obstacles are limited staff time and producer capacity. Despite doubling their box output over the past two years due to increased interest, program expansion is constrained by the availability of locally produced products. Extreme seasonal weather events have significantly impacted items like wild rice and maple syrup, leading to limited availability. Additionally, the limited capacity of Indigenous producers poses constraints on the availability of products such as corn and berries. Moreover, small producers may face challenges in processing, distribution, and accessing technical assistance.
  • Securing ongoing funding for the program remains a persistent challenge.

To tackle these challenges, the coalition relies heavily on partners to assist with grant applications and leverage the collective resources and capabilities of their team. By collaborating with their extensive network, they have been better able to meet the program's needs and overcome limitations. Although they continue to face ongoing challenges, their unwavering commitment to supporting and uplifting Indigenous and local food producers remains strong as they strive to provide healthy and nutritious foods to tribal elders. Building trusting relationships, scheduling recurring coalition meetings every Tuesday, and leveraging logistical resources have all emerged from these challenges.


Program coordinators offer the following advice for other coalitions who may be interested in replicating and adapting their model:

  • Foster a collaborative approach: Make sure decisions are made collectively, involving all stakeholders. This ensures that everyone's perspectives and expertise are taken into account, leading to more inclusive and effective outcomes.
  • Choose the right partners: Seek out partners who are genuinely invested in the success of the program and are willing to dedicate their time and energy to make it a reality. Having committed and passionate partners can significantly contribute to the program's overall success.
  • Persevere and stay determined: Implementing this program involves a high level of intricacy and complexity. It requires careful planning, frequent meetings, brainstorming sessions, and test piloting. It is essential to stay resilient and not give up when faced with challenges along the way. Persistence is key to reaching your goals.

Contact Information

Lauren Knaus, Program Coordinator
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin
Tribal Elder Food Box Program

American Indian or Alaska Native
Culture and cultural competency
Food security and nutrition
Networking and collaboration
Population health
Racial and ethnic groups
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention

States served

Date added
June 29, 2023

Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2023. Wisconsin Tribal Elder Food Box Program [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: [Accessed 21 May 2024]

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.