With 50 percent of its population under the age of 18, Pine Ridge Reservation experiences a consistent 90 percent poverty rate.
The rate of diabetes is 800 percent higher on the reservation than the national average and, at $6,286, the average income per-capita makes Shannon County in North Dakota the second poorest county in the United States.
Boulder-based nonprofit Conscious Alliance has several missions: stomping out hunger with nutritious, natural food, and empowering the next generation to inspire long-term solutions. Though their efforts benefit Native American reservations and food banks nationwide, Pine Ridge Reservation is the mainstay of the organization’s mission.
The vision for Conscious Alliance started as a University of Colorado student group headed by Justin Baker. Since its humble beginnings in 2002, the 501(c)(3) organization has provided 1.7 billion meals through grassroots food collection at concerts and music festivals. It’s more than ending hunger, though.
“Young people are the driving force behind this whole program,” says Conscious Alliance Executive Director Justin Levy.
Conscious Alliance works closely with youth empowerment programs aimed at youth living on Native American reservations.
The organization has partnered with Boulder nonprofit The Kitchen Community, to install a Learning Garden in Pine Ridge Elementary School where 100 percent of students rely on assisted meals. The garden teaches the reservation’s youth about nutritious food and sustainable living while providing fresh food that won’t contribute to the high diabetes rate on the reservation.
In addition, Conscious Alliance brings Art That Feeds Youth Workshops to the reservation, inspired by the tagline used in conjunction with the Conscious Alliance food drives making a presence at music festivals and shows throughout the country. Workshops encourage empowerment through art and span everything from skateboard art to traditional Lakota drumming.
During Art That Feeds Food Drives, concert-goers can purchase event-specific posters to the tune of the suggested donation of nonperishable food items or cash donation. Some particularly loyal bands choose to host Conscious Alliance at every showColorado’s The String Cheese Indecent has developed quite a following and regular fans expect to come to shows with nonperishables in hand.
The food collected is distributed locally to Feeding America Food Banks in the region in which the event takes place, while monetary donations purchase food in bulk quantities and deliver it to Native American reservations.
Donations from Art That Feeds Food Drives and generous natural food companies like Boulder’s Justin’s Nut Butter help stock the Pine Ridge Reservation Food Storage and Distribution Center built by Conscious Alliance in 2005. The distribution center is used to provide more than 100 families with food at the end of each month when money is tight.
“Conscious Alliance is young people helping young people so we may have a stronger next generation,” says Levy. “(It’s) an alliance of people who want to provide their talents and expertise to help a greater cause.”
Look for a Conscious Alliance event near you and hit the supermarket before the next show.