Fort Hall care boxes

Tonea Ballard, left, puts a carton of eggs in a care package while Sunshine Shepherd packages other items for local people in need earlier this month in Power County.

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After being launched for one purpose, Robert Perry now wants his family’s massive care-package drive to serve another function as well.

Perry, who lives in Power County, hopes doing good for others leads to better fortune for his 26-year-old son Wehe Perry, who’s trying to recover after experiencing a stroke in the last month that caused him to become permanently paralyzed on his left side.

“It makes me work harder,” Robert said. “We know we’re getting a lot of blessings and maybe it’ll help. We’re helping others.”

Robert’s family of mostly Shoshone-Bannock tribal members has raised more than $10,000 on their GoFundMe page, with the funding used to give care packages to locals in need during the COVID-19 crisis, especially the elderly who are most susceptible to the virus.

The family said more than 300 care packages have been delivered since they started on March 27. They ask for more funds to continue for a long duration, as $1,500 to $3,000 is being spent per week for the project according to Robert.

Donations can be made to the GoFundMe page at gf.me/u/xur4d6.

The project was initially just for those on the Fort Hall Reservation, where the family first heard of economic struggles and older people struggling to self-isolate because they still needed to go out for food.

“They take it serious and stay home, but the elders live on fixed income and they don’t have enough money for food storage and to buy a bunch of stuff and be ready to stay home for months,” Robert said. “When I realized this, I told my family we can’t sit here and eat healthy and — in good conscious — watch our elders die.”

The 60-year-old Fort Hall resident’s ensemble of mostly family members buy items, packages them and leaves them on the doorstep of those in need. During the process, they wear gloves and face masks made by local seamstresses.

People in need can fill out an application for a care package on a Google doc available on their Facebook page called, Fort Hall Covid-19 Relief Fund.

The packages include anything from fresh produce to toothpaste to pet food.

“We don’t just feed tribal members. We feed everybody,” said Robert, who makes brain tanned buckskin for a living. “It doesn’t matter your nationality. We don’t discriminate. When somebody fills out an application, they get a food basket.”

Robert and his family have past experiences that have helped them transition into this massive endeavor. He said he ran a food bank-esque nonprofit called ShareTech Inc. for around five years in the 2000s. Plus, the family knows how to make bulk food orders and organize the allotment because of operating a food truck during summers.

Robert does not see it as a burden to run this while his son faces an arduous recovery, but Wehe is in his thoughts from when the father gets up in the morning to when he goes to bed.

Robert said a pacemaker was successfully placed in Wehe, a “laid-back” and “giving” man, on April 7. The 26-year-old was moved on Thursday from the Portneuf Medical Center to Western Peaks Specialty Hospital in Bountiful, Utah, where he will receive long-term care and participate in physical therapy.

“It’s like a bad dream,” Robert said the day before the pacemaker was installed. “It don’t feel real. I know it is. But it’s hard for all of us.”

Wehe, who has a son, had a heart valve installed when he was a toddler. The Navajo Nation tribal member also required blood thinning medication that he didn’t take for the 15 days before hospitalization because of a complication with getting his prescription despite having medical insurance, his father said.

Robert said Wehe was admitted to PMC a little after his family started organizing care packages. Wehe is still missing a portion of the back of his skull that was removed after his stroke, so his swelling brain does not press up against it.

No one has been able to visit him because of strict visitation policies at both medical facilities to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“If I wasn’t doing what I was doing, I would go crazy,” Robert said. “It just keeps me busy. It just makes me feel good.”

He said it is a pleasure seeing a united effort for the cause. Local businesses and farms have donated food and other things, including a box truck to this operation.

“What’s the most amazing to me is the tribal members and the people that are donating to us. They’re coming out of the woodwork,” Robert said. “It’s bringing the community together through the giving of food at this time of fear because we’re all uncertain what the future brings and it’s started to bind our people together.”

His wife, Angela Rae Diaz, and five of his children are helping out, including his 27-year-old daughter Sunshine Shepherd.

“She’s donated all of her time,” Robert said of Shepherd. “She loves her people. She’s a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe. She sun dances. She goes to ceremonies. She dances. She lives and breathes her tradition, and she loves her elders and all the people on the reservation.”

Shepherd is a full-time college student, set to obtain her master’s degree in public administration at Idaho State University in May. She is also married with two kids aged 2 and 5.

But Shepherd still has time for the donation drive, helping run social media, reviewing applications, packing delivery boxes and whatever else she can do to help.

She said her family members are helpers and many are asking for assistance, including those who she sees as one of a community’s greatest assets: the elderly.

“You hold the highest respect for elders, especially during this time where this virus is aimed at and effecting elders specifically,” Shepherd said. “It’s really scary that we could lose so many elders to this if it became a problem on our reservation, and with that goes our tradition and with that goes our culture, goes our language and a lot of times that’s the head of the household for these little kids in our future generation.”