For Billie Rose Garreaux, overseeing the operations of the food panty on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota and distributing hundreds of boxes of food provided by Running Strong for American Indian Youth® is a lifelong labor of love.
Billie Rose, Running Strong’s Food Distribution Coordinator on Cheyenne River, told participants of the Running Strong Tour in September 2017 that her passion for helping others, particularly with food when they were hungry, was instilled in her at a young age by her family.
When she was about five years old, she and a few friends went fishing at a nearby creek and perhaps their ancestors were looking down on them as they had tremendous luck, pulling out a big fish practically every time they put their line in.
“We had caught so many,” she said.
Of course, she and her friends knew that they had caught many more than they and their families could eat and when they returned with all these delicious catfish, her parents knew exactly what to do – host a fish feast and share their bounty with the entire community.
Campfires were built, and neighbors brought potatoes to cook, and more.
She estimates that about 40 people took part in the feast.
“It was something I never forgot.”
A few years ago, when Billie Rose’s family was hungry she came to the food pantry on Cheyenne River to receive a box of food for her children and all the members of her household.
“I thought about that day while I was standing in line,” she told the Running Strong supporters. “It reminded me of the time in my life everybody came together and we all ate.”
From that day on Billie Rose has worked hard to help provide food to her friends and neighbors on the reservation.
“I volunteered originally, but they didn’t have anyone to run the program here on Cheyenne River and they asked me to do it and I said yes,” she told us.
She explained that one of the reasons why she wanted to work at the food pantry was because in her culture they have seven Lakota values.
“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.
“My heart just went out to all of them because I’ve been there, I’ve waited in line in the heat and in the cold so I could get a food pantry box to take home to my family so that I could make a meal to feed my children.”
Billie Rose depends on a handful of volunteers to help her unload the truck on delivery days and bring all the food into the food pantry.
The Cheyenne River Reservaton has many rural communities and poverty rates are high.
“Some communities are 80 miles from the food pantry and most of the roads are gravel and it’s hard to get here. There are very few jobs on our reservation,” she says. “One of the things I’ve noticed these last few years working with the food pantry is that we can always use more.
“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.”
While Billie Rose has hundreds of heartwarming stories about families in need who have been helped, one stands out in her mind.
One winter, she had a few extra food boxes in the pantry that hadn’t been picked up, and then a bad snow storm hit.
“The snow was at least two feet high. There are two shelter homes in Eagle Butte where about three or four families live in each because they are homeless.
“I live about two miles outside of town, but I have a [Chevrolet 4-wheel-drive] Blazer so I was able to make it to the food pantry to bring food to the shelter homes.
“I knocked on the door and came in. They had blankets hanging on the windows because it was so cold.
“I said, ‘I brought you guys some food boxes.’ They all stood up and thanked me. A bunch of little kids came running out from the back room and my heart filled up because I knew those innocent little ones were going to get a meal.
She described it as a reward “to have that feeling within your heart – to know that you are helping someone, especially a child.”
“That you can help them in any way, and if it’s just feeding them a couple of meals, is the best reward. One of the things that touched my heart was that I’m able to help the families here.
“It makes me feel good. It makes my heart feel good. It’s rewarding,” she said, adding that “without [Running Strong supporters] we wouldn’t be able to do all this. There are so many people in need. By helping us, you’re meeting that need. It is very much appreciated.”