Holiday Gifts for Children of the Reservations

If you have been following the National Relief Charities blog for some time now, you may be familiar with some of the topics I have written. Either way, I’d like to briefly reintroduce myself. My name is Andrew Bentley, and I am an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. In June of 2012, I joined NRC as an AmeriCorps VISTA. After my year of service completed with NRC, I went to work for the St. Francis Indian School (SFIS) on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota. This fall, NRC invited me back to be a part of their Long-Term Solutions team.

Holiday and Year-Round Giving - Happy HolidaysWhile leaving the place I called “home” was bittersweet, my return to NRC is something for which I am incredibly grateful. My time at SFIS gave me insight I would otherwise never have had, like seeing the importance that institutions like SFIS and NRC play in the lives of children on rural reservations, especially during the holiday season.

While some may feel it is frivolous for a nonprofit to provide Christmas stockings for thousands of youth, NRC views this quite differently. It isn’t all about the stockings. It is about the experience. It is about the gift of receiving and what that creates for a young person, especially those living on federal Indian reservations.

A little girl from Pojoaque with a big stockingThink for a moment. Put yourself in their shoes. You are a child too young to be so aware of the struggle all around you. After what funding your family receives for the month is gone, things get lean as usual. Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Grandma want to give you the world, but they can’t. The struggle is real, and for you Christmas is just another day off from school.

Bear with me for just another minute and keep imaging yourself as this child. You are at school, the one place where you know you are safe and can depend on having two meals a day. After weeks of anticipation, Santa and his elves have finally arrived with a Christmas stocking for you and the rest of your classmates. Santa visits with you briefly. Teacher takes your picture with Santa. You return to class with stocking in hand and food in your stomach. Today was a good day.

For some children, days like these don’t often come. In fact, there are some children that may not receive anything at all for Christmas. There is a huge value to spreading holiday cheer. It matters not that the stockings are a mix of toys and practical items; the children were remembered.

Pine Ridge youth get a visit from SantaBy partnering with reservation schools, NRC has provided countless youth with a holiday gift of their very own and the opportunity to see the man all kids look forward to seeing every year, Santa. While moments like these may be fleeting for children growing up on some of the poorest reservations, the impact of these moments lasts forever. Simply experiencing the gift of “receiving” boosts a child’s self-esteem and potentially influences the child to become a future giver who remembers others in need.

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