Ravn's Decision To Stop Flights Makes It Harder For Stony River To Get Medicine And Food Supplies

Stony River has restricted outbound travel to medical reasons only.
Credit Courtesy of Alaska Department of Transportation

The tiny Kuskokwim River village of Stony River is trying to figure out how to get basic medical and food supplies for its residents after RavnAir halted flights to Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages on April 2. While one airline will bring mail to Stony River, how the community will get medicine and sanitation supplies is still in question. Ravn’s decision made it harder for Stony River to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak.

Alyssa Gregory was not surprised when she got the call from Ravn that they were no longer flying to Stony River on April 2. One of her jobs was working as the Ravn agent.

"They usually always disappoint us," Gregory said.

Stony River is more than 200 miles north of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River, with a population of just 43 people. Ravn was the only airline that brought mail, freight, and passengers to the community. On April 2, they abruptly cut flights to non-hub villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, including Stony River. On April 5, RavnAir Group said that it would park all 72 of its planes, lay off its remaining staff, and file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

Gregory said that the village health aide was expecting a shipment of medical and sanitation supplies from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation the day she got the call. Extremely cold temperatures froze the medicine and supplies inside the village health clinic this past winter.

"So she had to send everything back because they were expired or no more good, so she doesn’t have anything besides Band-Aids and stuff like that," Gregory said.

Ryan Air has added Stony River to its route to deliver mail and freight starting April 6, but YKHC is waiting for plans from Gov. Dunleavy about transporting medicine and sanitization supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The state is responsible for coordinating with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail to rural Alaska communities. Gregory is worried that one of her sons won’t get the medicine he needs for his allergies, asthma, and heart murmur.

"And his EpiPens are expired, and we’re waiting for those because they are being mailed," Gregory said.

Stony River also has a store, which the traditional council runs as a nonprofit. That keeps prices relatively low. Otherwise, residents order their groceries individually to be shipped through the mail, or snowmachine about an hour to Sleetmute where the prices are higher.

Meanwhile, like many Y-K Delta villages, Stony River is adapting to a new normal amid the global pandemic. The traditional council has limited outbound traffic to medical reasons to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and will turn away anyone who tries to enter. Traditional Council President Mary Willis said that the tribe refused to let in two teachers who taught in Stony River and had left town briefly.

"They knew it and thought they were going to be an exception. Some people didn’t kind of take it seriously," Willis said.

For Gregory, adapting means less income. Her husband worked on the North Slope, but quit his job because he worried he would catch COVID-19 and infect his family and the small community. He also didn’t want to be banned from entering the village once the travel restrictions were in place. Gregory also works for the tribe, but her hours have been reduced.

"It’s just worrying if we have enough food. We can have fish in the summer and we have our Native food, but I’m just worried if I order rice and stuff, if I’ll get that," Gregory said.

She’s teaching her six children at home while the school is closed under the governor’s health mandate. Gregory is also teaching her children how to cook.

"My nine-year-old already made muffins, banana cake, and banana bread on his own, already," Gregory said.

Gregory is also seeing the impacts of the pandemic on the price of supplies. Normally she can order a box of diapers for $30 from Amazon, which usually takes a month to get to Stony River. Last week, she saw that same box of diapers was now $157 on Amazon. 

"When I was looking on Amazon, I was like 'Ah, I guess I’m going to just have to buy cloth diapers because in case we cannot find diapers, and we are going to have to use those for backup,'" Gregory said.

She’s not worried about her job with Ravn. She said that she’s prepared to work with them again if and when they resume flights to Stony River.