MOUNDRIDGE — Last weekend, Carl Weaver and members of the Experimental Aircraft Association were flying what is precious cargo to some from Moundridge to the Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee, S.D., as part of a relay.
Winter coats, hats, gloves and clothing.
“It really is a need,” Weaver said. “A lot of time donations go to people who don’t really need them. But I tell you what, I came away from there the first year with tears in my eyes. Those kids were so appreciative of this clothing.”
This is Weaver’s fourth year of being involved.
They will be flying bags full of coats, mittens and hats collected in Oxford, Miss., to help the children of Wounded Knee — who live in the poorest county in the United States, with 98% of students at WKDS receiving free or reduced-price lunch. According to the EAA, an average of 17 people live in each house. Others live in tents or cars, even in the harsh South Dakota winter when temperatures regularly plummet below freezing.
“It is just a mess up there,” Weaver said.
In Oxford, winter gear is not needed quite as regularly.
“This started in Mississippi, where I was raised,” Weaver said. “There were a lot of children going to school down there and shedding their nice, new winter clothes because in the south you only have a day here, and a day there, of wintertime. The lost and found department of these schools was inundated with clothing that nobody claimed.”
According to eaa.org, Anita Havens, a teacher at Della Davidson Elementary in Oxford, Miss., first found the need of winter clothing in Wounded Knee in 2016 while doing some research online. At Della Davidson, each year dozens of winter coats — many of them practically new — go unclaimed from the lost and found. Havens spoke with the principal and secured permission to donate the coats, then shared the project with her fourth-grade class. Students started bringing in outgrown coats from home, collecting a total of 350 coats.
“This year there are twice as many donations. We have a lot of clothing to take up,” Weaver said.
However, she had no cost-effective way to ship the coats to South Dakota. Her husband, an airport administrator active in the EAA, suggested an airplane relay of small aircraft to make the trip.
“We have chapters all over the United States,” Weaver said. “Each chapter meets once a month. We all do something, like give children rides for free. The idea is to do something good with our airplanes.”
This year there are about 1,000 coats headed north, packed in about 60 bags that weigh between 20 and 30 pounds each.
Weaver said it is a long flight from Mississippi to South Dakota. The idea was to get three or four chapters of the EAA involved and shuttle the winter clothing to its destination. So far, what has worked is flights from Oxford to Moundridge, and Moundridge to Wounded Knee.
From Moundridge to Wounded Knee is about a three-hour flight, each way.
“I have some friends around here who have a soft spot in their heart for the children up there,” Weaver said. “We have five or six airplanes.”