The beautiful fall days we are enjoying now are a reminder that in a few short weeks the cold days of winter will soon be upon us across the country, and especially for those families living in drafty mobile homes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the Great Plains of South Dakota.
For it’s there, as Running Strong for American Indian Youth® national spokesperson and Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota) who grew up on Pine Ridge knows firsthand, “Winter on the Pine Ridge reservation is bitter and brutally cold – and expensive.
“Constant freezing temperatures and blistering winds are a dangerous combination,” he says. “And as the coldest months draw closer, temperatures will soon begin to fall as low as 20 degrees below zero!”
As Billy adds, “Most families here live in humble houses or fragile mobile homes that just don’t have any sort of proper insulation.
“Parents work really hard to protect their kids, but often you can feel the winter winds coming off the prairie and the plains INSIDE these modest, but crowded homes!”
That’s why for more than 20 years, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong, we have been able to keep tens of thousands of Pine Ridge children, parents and elders warm on the reservation through our Heat Match program which supplements families’ meager budget for propane starting in early January.
For years, families who came to our field office, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home), with a money order for $100 would have their contribution matched with $100 from Running Strong to enable them to reach the $200 minimum cost to have a propane truck come out to their homes and fill their tank.
But last year, with the increasing cost of propane, we doubled our match so that for each family who contributed $100, they received a $200 credit from Running Strong for a total of $300 towards the cost of having their tank filled.
And in June of this year, Running Strong executive director Sydney Mills Farhang announced that “due to the rising cost of propane, our goal is to triple our Heat Match impact by offering 1:3 match, amounting to a total of $400 per family.
Last winter, during the coldest days of the year, we were able to assist 909 families (including 94 veterans’ households), representing 3,983 individuals including 1,811 children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with a total of $138,200 in Heat Match program funding.
As reported by our field coordinator Dave Lone Elk: “Last year was an outstanding one for the annual Running Strong Heat Match.
“We had many people apply during these cold and uncertain times. With our match of $200 to $100 we were able to do a lot more in terms of heating homes during these South Dakota cold snaps we’d been having.
“Running Strong continues to be a beacon of hope during this pandemic when food and heat are an inconsistency for a lot of tribal members with the rising costs of groceries and energy.
“Together we will continue to be the hand that reaches out to help our people through the tough times.”
And this year, with the help of our supporters, “We estimate to significantly increase our Heat Match funding to serve 1,200 families this upcoming winter,” says Sydney.