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Woman collecting coats for South Dakota reservation


Beth Velliquette

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On the plains of South Dakota, the wind can blow hard, and last week the highs were in the teens and 20s with lows in the single digits or below zero.

“It’s been very, very cold,” said Marji Forrest of Grifton.

Forrest is Lakota and Cheyenne, and each summer she goes to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She’s heard the stories about how cold it gets and how the children stay home from school because they don’t have warm jackets, as well as how the elders freeze because they have given their blankets to the children.

One of the stories she heard was about a little boy whose family left the reservation to find work in Rapid City. In September, he started going to school, was on time every day and made good grades, but in late October, he started arriving at school late every day, Forrest said.

No one could understand why, and school officials told him he needed to get to school on time, but he still came to school late every day.

Finally a counselor, who was Lakota, had a little talk with him and asked him why he was always late.

“He told her where he lived and halfway between home and school there was a Hardee’s where he’d stop every morning to get warm,” Forrest said. 

“It turns out the kid did not have a coat,” Forrest said. “She got him a coat and he was never late. All it took was a warm coat and that child got to school on time and got good grades. He wanted to go to school so bad he would walk in the cold.”

That was inspirational, Forrest said, and caused her to start collecting coats to send to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Later, she and another Pitt County woman, who has since moved away, registered a 501(c)(3) called Restoring the Hoop and began collecting coats and blankets in earnest.

Forrest said it is a 100 percent volunteer organization. Coats, blankets and warm clothing that are collected go to the reservation. Any monetary donations go toward the costs of shipping the coats or to a scholarship fund for the children on the reservation.

“We have a lot of people that help us so much,” she said.

A group of ladies knit and crochet hats, and others buy coats when they go on sale, she said.

Her group accepts new and gently used coats and blankets, but they need to be good, warm and hardy jackets, she said.

“We get a lot of donated things donated that are really not appropriate for the weather there, so we distribute those locally,” she said.

A warm coat for extreme temperatures can mean a lot to a child or teenager, she said.

She said she has seen children in coats held together with a big safety pin or children with no coats at all.

“They don’t go to school,” Forrest said. “If a coat can keep them in school, then that’s what we want to do.”

Blankets also are needed, and they are distributed to the older folks, she said.

The Restoring the Hoop coat and blanket drive is going on now through mid-January. 

Drop off locations are: Quality Collision Repair at 4792 N.C. 33 East in Greenville and at 4758 Reedy Branch Road in Winterville, at Gamboa Family Dentistry at 2207 Evans St., and at Uniforms PRN at Washington Square Mall in Washington.

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or at 252-329-9566.