Dave Lone Elk

A letter to Running Strong, on the Anniversary of opening of Tipi Waste Un Zanipi

To the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®,

My name is Dave Lone Elk and I grew up in the Running Strong family beginning as a toddler watching my father, Ken, do so much for so many of our fellow Oglala Lakota residents here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota.

My father, although formally “retired” from the position as field coordinator which I have since assumed, taught me well over the many years he held the job out here at our warehouse Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home).

This week marked 26 years since we’ve been around, and the lives of thousands of families have been made a little brighter in a myriad of ways.

My field staff and I are very pleased to announce after years of planning and hard work – along with the generosity of our supporters – we have opened a food pantry which is fully outfitted with two large freezers and eight large shelving units.  This pantry, the first on Pine Ridge, has allowed us to transform our food program from periodic food box distributions to a walk-in pantry that is open twice weekly. Hundreds of families now have access to frozen and shelf-stable foods – proteins, pantry items, grains, dairy, and even fresh produce.  They can simply come, pick up a box and fill it with approximately 25 pounds of food, enough to feed a family of four for a week or more – all free of charge!

I am also thrilled that after decades of working to bring safe running water to every family on Pine Ridge through our Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) water line connection program, we are on the verge of doing just that.

Running Strong co-founder Billy Mills recently commented that, “We can now see the end of the trail!” and noting that at present there are only 49 homes currently needing access to running water.

Another program I am especially proud of is our Heat Match program, which last January helped keep 8,059 individuals, including 4,112 children, to stay warm during the coldest days of winter – more than ever in the history of the program! Through the Heat Match, for each family contributing $100, they received a 1:4 match, meaning a total $500 would towards having a propane truck come to their home to fill their tank, or be applied as a credit on their electricity bill.

And, of course, we have never slowed in our mission to provide Pine Ridge children, parents and elders with the basic need items they must have – such as distributing hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies to elementary and junior high students each August just before the start of a new academic year, Smile Strong dental kits to keep children’s mouths clean and healthy, and especially critical – winter coats to keep children warm and protected from the harsh, frigid days of waniyetu (winter) –  here on the Great Plains, my personal favorite time of the year.

The holiday season is especially joyful as thanks to the supporters of Running Strong I get to play “Santa” – distributing frozen food boxes and thousands of pounds of frozen turkey to be served at family holiday dinners across the reservation. While it brings joy to my heart making sure the people most in need on Pine Ridge will have Happy Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, what is most heartwarming is our Toys for Tribes program.

The day before the toy distribution a week or two before Christmas day, my family and I spend hours working late into the night dividing up a semi-tractor trailer load of toys into piles based on ages and sex of the child so that when their parents arrive the next day with the list of their children we can quickly select appropriate gifts for their children.

The small staff and I from the Tipi Waste field office, want to take this time to thank each of you for your kindness to our many Lakota families who are very grateful for all the assistance we have provided to them since the ribbon was cut at Tipi Waste in September, 1997 – 26 years ago!

I know each of the families have expressed their appreciation to us, and we are passing this “thank you” back to each of you.

Thank you again!

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