By Wendy Daughdrill
Thanks to the second annual coat donation flight by EAA Chapter 1189, students of the Wounded Knee School District in Manderson, South Dakota, will have warm coats to wear throughout the winter. The children of Manderson, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, live in the poorest county in the United States, with 98 percent of students at WKDS receiving free or reduced-price lunch. When they leave the comfort and safety of their school each day, many go home to substandard housing with no windows and insufficient heat. An average of 17 people live in each small house—a house that may also lack electricity, running water, and beds to sleep in. Others live in tents or cars, even in the harsh South Dakota winter when temperatures regularly plummet below freezing.
Pine Ridge is home to the Oglala Lakota Nation. An overwhelming majority of the tribe’s 3,800 enrolled members live in poverty. There are no large towns on or near the reservation, and no infrastructure or industry to provide jobs. The unemployment rate hovers around 90 percent, and the average annual household income is $3,500.
Anita Havens is a teacher at Della Davidson Elementary in Oxford, Mississippi, an affluent college town far removed from the realities of Pine Ridge. Anita first stumbled across Pine Ridge in 2016 while doing some research online, and the more she learned about the conditions there, the more she felt compelled to help.
At Della Davidson, each year dozens of winter coats — many of them practically new — go unclaimed from the lost and found. Anita spoke with the principal and secured permission to donate the coats, then shared the project with her fourth-grade class, who was eager to participate. The students started bringing in outgrown coats from home, collecting a total of 350 coats.
“The kids really got into it and loved to help,” Anita said.
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 grades K-8.
When Anita went to ship the coats, however, she discovered that the cost would be astronomical. That was when EAA Chapter 1189 got involved.
Anita’s husband, Lynn, director of the Calhoun County Airport, is active in EAA Chapter 1189 out of north Mississippi. He suggested flying the coats to Pine Ridge in a relay, and the chapter decided to take on the project.
Fellow member Dale Weaver, EAA 569144, reached out to his brothers Carl, EAA 170444, and Dan in Kansas, who agreed to complete the final leg of the relay. The chapter now had enough pilots to transport the coats on their 1,200-mile journey from Pittsboro, Mississippi, to the Pine Ridge Airport (XPR) in South Dakota.
Volunteers packed the coats in heavy-duty contractor bags and vacuumed them down into 2-foot cubes. Three planes from Chapter 1189 transported the coats on the first leg, with chapter president Thomas Sippel, EAA 1063237, and Richard Justice, EAA 479662, joining Lynn on the flight to Kansas.
Marvin Hornbostel, EAA 710533, president of the Junction City Chapter 1364, met them to take and store the coats until the Weaver brothers could pick them up. Two weeks later, the Weavers flew the coats to the Pine Ridge Airport, where they were met by WKDS employees and had the opportunity to help distribute the coats to the students. The brothers later commented on how sweet and well-mannered all the children were.
For the 2017-2018 school year, Anita’s class collected 450 coats — enough to fill 28 vacuum sealed bags. Thomas, Dale, and Dennis Truax, EAA 1040821, flew the coats to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where they were met by Randy Resh, EAA 442843, president of EAA Chapter 732. Members of the Fayetteville chapter flew the coats to Moundridge, Kansas to meet Carl. When weather delays prevented the Weavers from flying out with the coats, they loaded the bags onto a truck and drove nine hours to get them to Pine Ridge. Thanks to Anita’s students and the cooperation of multiple EAA chapters, the children of WKSD were thankful to once again receive these coats — a wonderful showing of The Spirit of Aviation.
“The coat drive has benefited our community greatly,” said WKDS Principal Alice Phelps. “We were able to give out coats to our students and also to their families and community members. We are very thankful for this generous donation. These coats are a life-saver with the negative temperatures we’re experiencing. Thanks to all those that gave to this much needed drive!”
The Havenses are recruiting more EAA chapters to participate in Pilots for Pine Ridge.
All chapters along the way are encouraged to help in any way they can.
“It has been really rewarding for everyone involved,” Anita said. “We hope it may grow into something bigger and maybe even culminate into a big fly-in at Pine Ridge.”
The biggest need right now is for chapters in the Nebraska-South Dakota area to get involved and help shorten the last leg of the relay, which is more than 400 miles one way. They are also hoping to see other chapters organize coat drives in their own communities and adopt some of the 13 other schools on the reservation. Currently, Chapter 1189 is only able to meet the need at WKDS. The chapter said it is never too soon to start organizing for next year, so the coats can be ready before the weather turns cold in South Dakota.
For more information about how to get involved, contact Lynn and Anita Havens at firstname.lastname@example.org.