YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - A Yankton church member delivered a vanload of gifts to Mission this past week as part of a multidenominational ministry that brings presents to South Dakota's American Indian reservations.
"The children on the reservations deserve the opportunity to have something to open at Christmas," said Jane Gilmore, a member of First United Methodist Church of Yankton.
The church each year works with Tree of Life Ministry, an ecumenical extension of the United Methodist Church of the Dakotas, to supply more than 75 gift packages to children on the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Crow Creek reservations.
Russell Masartis, executive director of Tree of Life, said the organization worked closer with tribal officials this year to make sure all families received gifts. The solution was to hold five large Christmas fairs.
In the past, Tree of Life would collect the names of families in need, but inevitably some were missed, Masartis said.
"Heads of household were invited to come and pick out a gift or two for the children that lived in their home," he said. "That way, we had the greatest distribution."
The group also decided to leave the gifts unwrapped this year, Masartis said.
"Sometimes one child would open a gift with four a five things inside a box, while another child would open a gift with one thing inside," he said. "Children in the same family would sometimes not get an age-appropriate gift or the same number of gifts."
The present project is a small part of the Tree of Life's work on the reservations. About two-thirds of its efforts involve construction projects to improve homes, daycares and crisis centers. The rest includes everything from a school supply distribution program to work on developing a sustainable economy on the reservations.