For hundreds of families living in dire poverty on the Cheyenne River Sioux and Pine Ridge Indian reservations, the food boxes provided by Running Strong for American Indian Youth® are a lifeline, helping to ensure that children, parents and elders don’t go hungry when money is tight.
The summers are especially hard on children when they aren’t in school and can’t count on getting the free breakfasts and lunches they do when classes are in session.
In addition to the food boxes distributed to families year-round by our staff and partners, we also provide operational support to five U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program feeding sites in rural and isolated locations on the Cheyenne River all summer long.
On Cheyenne River thousands of residents count on Billie Rose Garreaux, our Field Distribution Coordinator, to distribute Running Strong food boxes from the food panty on the reservation.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do the food pantry is because in our culture we have seven Lakota values,” explained Billie Rose, who began her involvement there as a volunteer.
“One of them is called ‘woeeshala,’ which means compassion, and when I did the first food pantry I felt compassion for all the people standing in line waiting to get their food box.”
Running Strong distributes a total of 1,700 boxes of food annually on the two reservations and Billie Rose, along with Running Strong Field Coordinator Dave Lone Elk on Pine Ridge, work to ensure the boxes contain foods that the families request.
For Billie Rose, that means canned meats such as Spam and corned beef hash, flour and yeast, coffee and tea, potatoes, canned corn, and to spice things up a bit, a bottle of hot sauce. Dave told us that Pine Ridge families also ask for canned meast such as Spam, corned beef hash and Vienna sausages, mac and cheese, cereal, and crackers.
But there is always the need for more and for Billie Rose, Dave and all of Running Strong’s staff and volunteers, it is heartbreaking to turn away families still waiting in line when the last box is distributed.
“The saddest thing for me when I run the food pantry is that when we run out of boxes there’s still a long line of people,” Billie Rose told us. “It is so hard to see them turn away. Some of them go without.”
Anecdotes from the Field
Ken Lone Elk, a Running Strong field staff member on the Pine Ridge, recalled an instance when a shipment of food boxes arrived at our “Tipi Waste” warehouse on the reservation they were dubbed “banana boxes,” as they all contained a large assortment of various food items.
“These boxes were a little like surprise packages,” Ken told us. “No one knew what they were receiving.”
In addition, the delivery driver had included several boxes of brand new winter coats along with the food boxes.
“Every family who came in was very surprised that they were also receiving coats for their children,” he said. “The comments we received were very positive and grateful. The families who did not take any of the coats mentioned to Noreen (his favorite volunteer, who also happens to be his wife) that they did not need any coats, but to give them to the families who needed them.
“It is pleasing that our families are actually looking out for each other in these hard times.”
Six miles down the road in a rural community of the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation seems like 600 miles for a family of 10 living in a 2-bedroom trailer with no vehicle of any sort or access to public transportation.
“The only time anyone sees them is when we deliver our food boxes,” reported a Running Strong staffer.
It costs them $60 to pay someone just to drive them to the nearest grocery store in Eagle Butte, the main town on the reservation, to buy some groceries.
The situation became particularly hard on the family when the eldest son, a 17-year-old who was the breadwinner of the family and earned money to help pay the family’s bills and buy groceries and medications, passed away of heart failure.
“If it wasn’t for Running Strong we would have had to split up our kids and grandkids with other family members in order to keep them all fed,” his mother told us.
“We are all so glad there are people who care enough to bring food to our doorsteps because we are unable to go out and get it. Thank you!”