Story by ALICIA LEONARD
For a single mother of three who works 12 hours a day cleaning vacation homes, a flat tire or car problems is a catastrophe. For the elderly with no family and rising medical costs, sometimes decisions between food and medicine must be made. For a tribe that has struggled for recognition, the ability to give back to the rural community that surrounds them makes them an uncommon tribe of angels.
Once every three weeks, the Muscogee Nation of Florida, located in Bruce, opens their doors and feeds close to 140 families through their food bank. With each family having usually more than one member, that means around 300-400 hungry people in Walton, Holmes and Washington counties go to bed with food in their stomachs and the knowledge that others care in their hearts whether they survive or not.
Chuck and Ann Tucker and all the volunteers were present this past Saturday, June 23. As sweat dripped from foreheads and free water was passed down the lines, people came empty handed but with honest hardworking hearts and left with food and toiletry items, a heath check-up at their Tribal Clinic and a chance to eat and share fellowship while celebrating the retirement of Pastor Elaine Barrow at Bruce Methodist Church with lunch on the grounds, across the street from the tribe’s headquarters.
The tribe’s chairwoman, Ann will appear before the U.S. House of Representatives regarding Tribal Relations this Wednesday, June 28, and request that the tribe be federally recognized. She has been working for years toward this goal and now that it is near, excitement, trepidation and hope can be felt in the air.
“I am very excited about this,” she said. “This is what we have been working towards, to be recognized as who we are and our history here. I’ve been working on my speech to the House all week. We are excited and hopeful, but no matter the outcome, we will continue to strive to care for those in the community that need our help.”
Ann and her husband Chuck recognized the need for help for those in the outlying rural areas many years ago. The food bank itself was started when Chuck, retired military, dipped into his savings and bought the first $2,500 worth of food. Since then, the donations, grants and USDA Food Bank titles have continued to keep the doors open and families fed.
“We love doing this. I never thought in a million years this is what I would end up doing, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. For working families and the elderly, one simple emergency can do a family in. Single moms with a car problem, elderly with extra medical expenses, things like these that some families can absorb can devastate others. There was such a need for this and there is such a reward in doing it that it is hard to explain,” Chuck said.
Over the last few years, the tribe has added a medical clinic and a gift shop as well as a donations store for people to shop at. The Tribal Council House is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. The Council House is located in a historic community center that was a school house and post office for more than 75 years. Tribal meetings are open to the public and usually held every two months. They are a 501 (c) non-profit Indian Tribe. They were recognized by the state of Florida through concurrent resolutions passed by the state Senate and the House of Representatives in 1986.
On the grounds is also a museum, detailing the history of the tribe as well as authentic, handmade tribal gifts in the gift shop. The tribe welcomes all donations, big and small, to further their efforts at helping the surrounding communities.
The unofficial mascot of the tribe is a flying pig. Chuck recalled the incident that helped the mascot come to life. “When we first went in front of community leaders and told them we wanted to help with rural relief for these families and open a food bank, a developer said that it would happen when pigs fly. Well, pigs are flying in Bruce, Florida.”
Upcoming dates for the food bank is July 14, Aug. 4, Aug. 25, and Sept. 15. The food bank is open from 9 a.m. through noon on those dates. To learn more about the tribe and requirements for food bank items, call
(850) 835- 2078 or go to www.muscogeenationofflorida.com.
A well-known quote says, “those that suffer know much,” but suffering can be softened for local families when a tribe of angels is located in Walton County.