Despite being more than 1,000 miles away from home, an Oglala Sioux Tribe member is working to make a difference in Pine Ridge, where she grew up.
Twila True, founder of the True Sioux Hope Foundation based out of Orange County, Calif., has been working to provide immediate assistance, education and sustainable change in Pine Ridge.
The foundation recently partnered with Thrive Market, an online market that sells natural and organic products, to donate boxes of groceries and other goods to Pine Ridge residents in need. The first round of 100 boxes was distributed in late January.
Some boxes are catered to the needs of Pine Ridge residents, with four different kinds of boxes available. One type of box had healthy food items; another had low-sugar food for those with diabetes; a third had baby care products for new moms; and the fourth had cleaning and personal care products.
The foundation’s goal is to raise $60,000 for the boxes, which cost $50 each. Donors can buy boxes through the foundation’s website, truesiouxhope.org.
The boxes then get shipped to Pine Ridge, where Jeff Whalen, a representative for the foundation, loads the products on his trailer and distributes them to residents on the reservation.
Whalen said he announces the distributions by telling people at the Oglala Sioux Tribe Offices Community Action Programs, or by telling tribal council representatives. For the first distribution of boxes, Whalen parked his trailer on the side of U.S. Highway 18 where it intersects with S.D. Highway 407.
Whalen set up a display of each of the four types of boxes so people could choose which they need the most. The box they chose was then loaded into their car by volunteers.
The 100 boxes were distributed within about 45 minutes, Whalen said. He said it’s easy to find volunteers. He sometimes has his adult kids help out and just asks random people on the reservation to volunteer.
“You see a lot of smiles, a lot of happy people, a lot of grateful people on the reservation,” Whalen said. “I don’t ask for anything I just do it and when I see that smile, that’s what makes my day.”
He said people often ask him where the donations come from and he gives them a quick explanation of the True Sioux Hope Foundation and of the founder.
The box donations are part of the foundation’s goal to provide immediate assistance to Pine Ridge residents, said Alexa Steevens, of the public relations team for the foundation.
“Growing up on the reservation, (True) knew kind of the poverty that everyone was living in and how they really needed support,” Steevens said. “There’s been a bunch of organizations that have tried to raise money for Pine Ridge and make change but obviously there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”
Donations for the boxes come from all over the country, she said. The foundation will continue to organize distributions as more donations for boxes come in.
Whalen said people on the reservation really value True and her efforts to help, especially with goods catered to diabetics or with expensive baby care products.
“I think that (True) is turning back some of her good fortune to people who she’s related to back here and all of her tribal members,” Whalen said. “We appreciate everything that she does for us.”