Volunteers bringing holiday joy, winter preparations to Pine Ridge families
CUSTER, S.D. – With winter finally beginning to set in, South Dakotans are making sure they’re prepared for the season, and for a group of families on Pine Ridge, one local organization is helping out.
Originally founded in 2009 under a different name, the mission of The Tipi Raisers spans across four interconnected topics: alleviating poverty, honoring indigenous wisdom, engaging in conversation with both native and non-native peoples, and empowering youth leaders.
Their ‘Race to Winterize’ program began in 2018, and to date has helped close to 100 families prepare for the cold.
This year, despite COVID restrictions in place limiting the number of volunteers and travel, community members showed up to their current location at Custer Lutheran Fellowship to help, where they have been working all weekend long to prepare boxes of food and wrap presents for families at the Pine Ridge Reservation.
According to the Tipi Raisers website, around 40 percent of homes on the reservation lack electricity, and many people are unable to afford home-heating methods such as wood or propane, making the need for firewood another top priority during colder months.
“There’s firewood distributed throughout the year, but especially as these winter months come in, it’s really important for families to have that, because there’s a lot of homes that don’t have central heating,” Program Assistant Mackenzie Tilton explained. “So firewood is needed to stay warm in the often below freezing conditions.”
Approximately 30 families will receive the donations, made possible by the organization and members of the public.
“The families aren’t small either. You could have from four to eighteen per family, and so they do cover a lot of gifts,” volunteer Pansy Weasel Bear stated. “It may not seem like much, but it is.”
Everything will be taken to Pine Ridge on Monday, December 6. From there, presents will be distributed on a later date closer to Christmas.
“I know growing up myself, that was very scarce getting a Christmas gift or food commodities and everything,” Assistant to the Executive Director of The Tipi Raisers Oliver Miner recalled. “And I think, as small as this is, it’s a huge impact.”