SYCAMORE – For as long as she can remember, Noel Smith has been collecting clothing and household goods for those less fortunate.
When she was a girl, she helped her parents collect clothing to send to Africa. When she discovered about 15 years ago that she has Native American ancestry, she changed her focus to help those in some of America’s poorest communities.
“My aunt is the one who started the ball rolling with donations,” Smith said. “She started with Campbell’s Soup labels, and sent them to the Indians instead of sending them to school. Then [our focus] went to baby clothes, and only baby clothes, which we knew a certain reservation would take.”
Smith and her daughter, Megan Smith, now collect clothes and household goods throughout the year to ship to the Native American Heritage Association in Rapid City, S.D., for distribution to Sioux tribes in South Dakota and Wyoming. NAHA’s website states that two of the poorest counties in the United States are on the Crow Creek and Pine Ridge reservations in South Dakota.
“There is 80 percent unemployment and 70 percent do not have transportation,” said Pam Myers, vice president of NAHA. “And this is for a population of 45,000.”
NAHA serves six tribes of Sioux American Indians on five reservations in South Dakota and Wyoming. The average life expectancy on the reservations is 58, and infant mortality is 10 times the national average.
“The next thing we know, we somehow got affiliated with NAHA and they take everything – boys, girls, men’s, women’s – everything,” Noel Smith said. “I send them anything and everything, from books to school supplies, sheets, tablecloths, blankets, bath mats, toys, you name it.”
The Smiths collect, sort and wash clothing and supplies from friends, family members, church members and even trash receptacles.
“You would not believe the black garbage bags we have found full of designer clothes with the tags still on them,” Megan Smith said. The Smiths only send clothing that is in good condition to NAHA; they donate the rest to The DeKalb County Animal Shelter for use as bedding for the animals.
Noel Smith’s husband can get discounted freight shipping to South Dakota through his job with FedEx Freight. The Smiths are preparing to send their annual shipment to NAHA later this month and still are seeking items to ship.
Most years, the Smiths send about 50 large boxes full of clothes and supplies to NAHA in two separate freight shipments.
Noel Smith said NAHA is grateful for any and all clothing and supplies that they receive, and every item is used and appreciated.
“People just come to the truck and start crying because they are so thankful that they have something,” she said.