SPOKANE – A heart filled with faith and kindness is what drives Gail Lesperance from Spokane to help one of the poorest areas of the United States, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Lesperance and her support group including family, friends, and other community partners work to fill multiple 26-foot box trucks with donations and then drive them out to Pine Ridge.
As she prepares to lead her 11th convoy out to the area later this year, she explains how the journey started after going through a healing period of her own.
Recalling a time of change, Lesperance explained that she was 41 years old and going through a very tough time in her own life when she chose to turn toward a faith driven life that started at HRC Ministries in Spokane.
Battling addiction and homelessness, she turned to God and his message came to her when she heard of a tragic story on the reservation. A young man had tried to take his own life, and he would have been the third suicide in his family according to Lesperance. She said God told her that her mission from that point was to help as many of them as she possibly could.
Joe Standing Bear worked with HRC Ministries at the time, and was introduced to Lesperance by Rick Clark who runs another local non-profit and is a visionary of kindness. She said when he learned about her efforts, Standing Bear offered to send pallets of food with her during some of her drives.
She has now been coordinating and receiving food donations from HRC for five years running, and was also recently employed as a Reservation Outreach Coordinator by HRC to continue doing her outreach work.
“The last trip they sent 17 pallets, and the trip before that was 13 pallets of food,” Lesperance said. “I get a lot of help from them.”
Another individual that caught word of what Lesperance and her crew were up to was Michael Crouse, owner of Total Security. Lesperance spoke of the meeting being completely unexpected, but it has grown to be one of her most meaningful partnerships she has built.
“He was holding a contest to win a free $1,000 security system about three years ago, and I won it,” she said. “Well through that he learned about what I was doing, and he wanted to help me. So, for the last three trips he has been paying for the box trucks himself.”
This was how her direct partnership with the HRC non-profit began, as Total Security, HRC, and U-Haul all agreed to work out a program that will allow her to make two trips per year with two trucks from U-Haul. The partnership also allows her the use of one free 20’ by 20’ storage unit to store and prepare donations for each trip. HRC Ministries also funds her fuel and motel stays during each venture.
After making 10 successful trips she has started to get recognized as someone that helps because in the desolate situation that is Pine Ridge, they rarely get help like this. This reservation is known to be one of the poorest places in the country economically, and there is no sign of growth or development in the near future.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, so Gail’s crew is hauling these donations nearly 1,000 miles to get them to the people that need them every time they make them trip, and they have to make the drive back as well.
Home to Lakota Natives that were forced out of the Black Hills in the late 1800’s, these residents refuse to accept settlement money and stand strong in their belief the Black Hills should be returned to the natives.
According to information from the Partnership With Native Americans, many of the people living there have to travel over 120 miles for seasonal jobs in Rapid City. Statistics also show only about one out of five residents have employment. Pair that with the lack of adequate medical facilities and a major problem with housing, and it is easy to see why Pine Ridge needs help.
Many residents of Pine Ridge overlook their own health because they simply can’t afford to make the drives back and forth to medical facilities. Hundreds of other are left homeless or crammed into overcrowded living quarters. Many residents are stuck in a very negative cycle that has little to no opportunity to break free or improve the situation.
Lesperance claims she feels the economic disparity has become worse since she started, and COVID certainly didn’t help matters. She feels the drug use is a direct fallout of the poverty that overwhelms the reservation and will continue to work for her cause.
Her goal moving forward is to let prayer guide the way and continue making these trips as often as realistically possible, because her heart is filled from helping those that have very few options to help themselves. She does hope to make two trips per year to keep the process flowing as it has.
Perhaps the hard work of Gail and her team of volunteers will continue to have a positive impact on the reservation, and she only hopes that impact can continue to grow.
More information about the nonprofit can be found on her Facebook page called “Beautiful Skys -PineridgeDrive– and also has information in the HRC Ministries website.