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In-kind and food distribution
Winter is not just coming to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, it’s arrived with a vengeance.
“We survived the winter onslaught that was too early,” reported Running Strong for American Indian Youth® field staffer Ken Lone Elk from our Pine Ridge warehouse, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home) on December 3. “We did not enjoy any fall weather. We jumped right into winter conditions.”
But Ken also had good news to report.
“Every family survived and it did get immediate attention for all the O.S.T. (Oglala Sioux Tribe) programs that work with Lakota families,” he said.
And for hundreds of Lakota families this December, Running Strong is there for them to help them get through the coming winter.
On December 9, Ken and his son, Dave Lone Elk, who is following in his father’s footsteps as our field coordinator, were on the local radio station, KILI 90.1FM – the voice of the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation , to get the word out to residents on the reservation about Running Strong programs available to them.
First of all, Dave stressed that Running Strong strives to work with all nine districts, not an easy task considering at 3,468 square miles it is one of the largest reservations in the country – in fact, bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Dave and Ken use KILI Radio as their primary source of getting the word out to their fellow tribal members informing them, for example, that the annual winter wear has arrived.
“I do have a shipment of winter coats along with winter kits [containing hats, gloves and scarves] and blankets in right now,” announced Dave. “I will be sorting those and getting those out to the district service centers. They will be distributed this week.”
Dave explained to his listeners that his challenge is to get the winter coats and accessories (along with the frozen turkeys and food boxes he is expecting any day now) before the Lakota Nation Invitational, a sort of a Lakota Olympics held in Rapid City where Native youth gather in great excitement to present their competitive best in basketball, volleyball, cross-country, golf, wrestling, and more, which this year begins on December 17.
“So that’s always sort of a time crunch with me,” said Dave. “I don’t want to be sitting in my warehouse with a bunch of turkeys while everybody’s off in Rapid.”
Ken explained that while Running Strong’s goal is to work with all nine districts on the huge reservation, it’s not entirely possible as one of the district representatives has repeatedly failed to submit the required documentation following the distribution of food and coats.
“One of the things that’s required and very important to us is signature sheets,” said Ken, who emphasized that the sheets do not require any personal information or documentation. “All we ask is a name, a date, what district they’re from, how many children do you have and their age, and that’s it.
“The reason why we do these sheets is that it helps us plan for the amount of children we have,” he continued. “We are a program that is geared towards assisting our youth first. Our children are always first on our mind. Most of our in-kind stuff is geared towards our children.”
Dave reiterated what his father said about the importance of the signature sheets as Running Strong is a non-profit organization that relies on the generosity of the public to support our programs and as such has the responsibility to be held accountable to our supporters as to how their dollars are being spent.
“We need to keep track of the number of people that we serve,” said Dave.
“I try to help as many people as I can,” he added. “The people need the help and that’s what we’re here for.
“We just try to do what we can, as much as we can.”
Following the in-kind and holiday food distribution program in December, the next topic is the Running Strong Heat Match program which matches Lakota families $1 for $1 up to $100 for a total of $200 enabling them to meet the minimum to have their propane tank filled.
For the past several years, Running Strong and Dave have provided 1,000 Pine Ridge families with $100 matching grants each year.
Dave was certain the next topic that is on everybody’s mind was “When is this year’s Heat Match program going to begin?”, as he’s been getting calls for months with people asking about it.
(Ken told us earlier that when the winter weather struck a couple of weeks ago, “Our one phone line was jumping.”)
And Dave does not blame them for wanting to ensure that the Heat Match program will be available again this year as it has been for more than 20 years.
“It’s cold out here on the plains,” said Dave. “A lot of people have broken windows or doors that don’t close all the way. A lot of people’s trailer homes may not be fully insulated.
“These are all serious issues that come about every year.”And ultimately the announcement all their KILI Radio listeners had been waiting for: The Heat Match will begin this year on January 6, the first Monday of the new year.
Dave then explained to those listeners who may not be aware of the Heat Match program that all they have to do to qualify for the program is pick up an application at the Running Strong field office in Gooseneck, or at any of the nine district service offices, and return it with a money order for $100 to receive a $200 credit for propane or on their electric bill.
Dave said he understands that for most families on the reservation, December is a fun time as they attend the Lakota Nation Invitational to cheer on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and then celebrate the holidays together, but that for many January is the hardest month of the year.
“After New Year’s pocketbooks are a little emptier,” he said. “It’s a cold, hard month. After Christmas things seem pretty glum.
“That’s why the Heat Match is there. I want to help these people that need that assistance.”
Lakota elder Chris Eagle Hawk joined Dave and Ken noting that as a nonprofit organization the funds that can be allocated to the Heat Match program are limited.
“It depends on how much Running Strong can raise,” said Chris, who has participated in several Running Strong Reservations Tours providing his insight to tour participants.
“What does Running Strong do?” Chris asked rhetorically. “It does a lot for the youth if you really think about it. I’ve been on the tours with you guys and I’ve seen the actual work.
“I think they’ve been doing a really great job.”