A Perspective on TOMS Shoes for the Rez
As a person that grew up in a middle class family living in the suburbs; I grew up with all my needs met. There was food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head. Like a lot of young people living in similar situations in this country, I took these things for granted.
Sometimes, I allow myself to believe that I’ve experienced some hard times since getting out on my own, but family has been there to help. While there are a lot of kids out there like me in the United States, there are a lot, for reasons outside of their control, who go without in this country. Often those that go without are thought of in context of the poverty we see during our daily routines.
Unfortunately, most issues brought to public awareness that affect the overall wellbeing of the U.S. lack Native American inclusion. Somehow Native Americans are left out of the public discourse on poverty in America. Combined with misconception and stereotypes, the majority has little understanding of issues unique to Native American communities.
Additionally, limited access to resources on reservations creates an environment where people can lack things that are often taken for granted by the outside majority. Regardless of how much money a person/family has, an outsider can easily stand on a reservation in the Great Plains region and wonder, “Where does a person even go to buy a pair of shoes?” Now, add money to the situation and more questions arise. A question like, “How does one afford to get to a store anywhere from an hour to three hours away?”
With the partnership that exists between National Relief Charities and TOMS Shoes under their One for One Movement, I’ve been blessed to assist with what I believe is helping children and families that are struggling to keep quality shoes on their feet. My recent travels with NRC and TOMS have taken me to the Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, Flathead, and Standing Rock reservations.
The gratitude and thanks that I’ve personally witnessed makes the long days and time away from home all the more worth it. It’s the little things that matter the most… The elementary aged student running around the gym after being fitted with a new pair of TOMS… The handshake from a parent. The hug from a Grandma. The appreciation expressed by school staff and administration.
Serving communities that I’m not personally a member of often leaves me wondering, “What could I be doing better?” “Did I carry myself in a good way?” “Is my service making a difference?” Often I walk with doubt and uncertainty. But at a recent shoe distribution, an elder on Cheyenne River told me, “You are doing a good thing.” It takes a moment like this to remember to take things one day at time and do the best I can in the life I’ve been given.