American Legion holds coat drive for Pine Ridge families
Special to the Enquirer
For the second year, members of Hartselle’s American Legion John F. Thompson Post 52 donated to needy families that reside on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation covers more than 2.8 million acres in southwestern South Dakota, making it the second-largest reservation in the United States and larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located in Oglala Lakota County, where its per-capita income makes it the second poorest county in the United States, at $6,286.
Six years ago, Anita Havens, a native Mississippi author, was collecting data for a story on the reservation, when she interviewed Alice Phelps, a local high school administrator. During that discussion, Havens saw the need to help the people, after learning about the severe poverty and limited coats for citizens on the reservation during harsh winter months.
Anita turned to her husband Lynn, retired Coast Guardsman, and said “Let’s put our heads together and make a difference for the Pine Ridge people,” and the mission began. Anita contacted Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, a group that supports reservation-based schools and organizations, to find out where the coats would do the most good. They recommended the Wounded Knee District School, a reservation school serving children in kindergarten through eighth grades.
When Anita went to ship the coats, however, she discovered that the cost would be astronomical. She again asked Lynn to help, his flying club was the ticket to reduced shipping. He devised a plan to leapfrog the clothing items from airport to airport until they found their way to the Pine Ridge. For the past six years, members of flying clubs across the Midwest and southern states have come together to make the mission happen.
In early 2021, Jason Hulsey of Post 52 learned about the efforts and made contact with Havens. The two made plans to receive donations from members of the Hartselle post and area citizens. Members of the post and Auxiliary came together to collect, organize and load more than 850 pounds of clothing and matched the same gift in the fall of 2022. This year, due to climbing fuel prices, the group elected to make the 1,200-mile road trip to South Dakota just as the first major snowfall arrived.
As years before, the citizens of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are overcome with emotion and gratitude for the wonderful gifts and love coming to them from all over the United States.