Wanblee Elder Center

Julia R. has been the manager of the elder center in Wanblee for the past 14 years and has seen many changes during that time.  She says the building is 40 years old, is owned by the elders and in need of many repairs. Since the building is owned by the elders and not the tribe they’re not able to get any assistance from them for maintenance and repairs.  Jerome says the community does get a quarterly stipend from the casino for the elders so is hoping some of that money can be used for some of their needs.

The floor needs replacing, lighting is outdated with many fixtures not working, doors and windows are in poor condition and they need a secondary interior door to prevent further heat loss when someone enters or exits the building.  The heat source is electric base board heaters and most aren’t working so they’ve been using a propane stove to warm the building on the coldest days which puts everyone at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, luckily the building is drafty.  Most of the elders don’t stay very long because the building isn’t warm and there aren’t enough chairs to sit down and eat their lunch or socialize.  The plumbing is old, the roof needs repairs and there are holes in the walls that need patching, fencing around the property is falling down.  Keeping the building tight is critical to save on heating bills and keeping rodents out that may carry the Hantavirus which can be fatal.

A local church group recently painted the interior but the color is a darker blue making an already dark building even darker which isn’t good for elders with vision problems.  Jerome recently received a donation of paint so if that turns out to be a lighter color maybe Youthworks could repaint the center as one of their community projects this summer.  They have one window air conditioner donated by Hearts of the Sacred Spirit but it’s not large enough to cool the entire building.  The cook stove has 6 burners but they have a problem keeping them lit and the oven often goes out which makes baking very frustrating.  Julia has to get on the floor and try to relight the burner which is extremely hazardous and puts her at risk for burns or worse.

The refrigerator is old and the temperature fluctuates from freezing food to not operating at all resulting in the loss of a lot of their food, they do have 2 freezers in good working order.  Their food is provided by the tribe but Julia must make the 200+ mile trip every two weeks to pick it up in Pine Ridge, each area has a budget so they can only pick up what they need for 2 weeks.  Jerome tries to supplement their food whenever possible from donations he receives from NAHA, the food bank in Rapid City, and Running Strong.  If Julia runs out of other items like food containers for home delivery, she has to make the long trip back to Pine Ridge so sometimes  it’s easier for her to buy supplies locally using her own money.  The tribe provides them with bleach and dish soap to wash dishes, there is no dishwasher.  Julia buys her own Pine sol, SOS pads and many other supplies.  They are in need of a new industrial size mop, the current one is falling apart and most of the “mop” has worn away to half it’s original size.

They currently have 2 small tables, 2 larger folding tables but only  8 chairs, and a small sofa with matching chair which means they can’t accommodate very many people at one time.   There are 90+ elders enrolled in the feeding program but they actually serve or deliver around 40 meals a day Monday through Friday.  Many elders live in the outlying areas and have no transportation so their meals are delivered.  They’re in need of many things for the kitchen and the rest of the building:

  • Cleaning supplies/paper products – Pine Sol/disinfecting cleaner, SOS pads/pot scrubbers. laundry detergent, liquid hand soap, paper towels, toilet paper.
  • Kitchen needs – Bread pans, cookie sheets, large roasting pan, large serving spoons, ladles, spatulas, measuring cups, etc.
  • Appliances – Warming/chafing dishes, electric frying pan, 2 or 3 large crockpots, heavy duty mixer such as KitchenAid
  • Plastic – large garbage, quart and gallon size Ziploc, carry-out food boxes with 3 compartments, small containers for soup and fruit, plastic cutlery, napkins, any plastic food containers with lids such as cottage cheese, yogurt, butter, etc.
  • Linens – dish towels and cloths, sturdy full size aprons, tablecloths (vinyl easily cleaned), cloth or paper napkins.
  • Dishes and silverware – currently they have no stainless cutlery of any kind or plates, coffee cups, bowls, etc.

We’re looking at ways to use carryout containers that can be reused and not end up in the landfill, please let us know your ideas.  The tribe does provide the plastic cutlery but if they run out Julia has to buy it locally.  Cloth bags could be used to deliver the food instead of paper or plastic but we would need to make those. Again, we need your ideas.

Julia really wants to get the building fixed up to look more inviting and welcoming so the elders can sit down and enjoy their lunch and stay around to socialize with friends and maybe play games or read.  One of our SFK members, Laurie A., is going out to the Martin youth center in May to set up a library/game center for the kids.  She would love to set up the same for the elder center, Julia said it would certainly be a welcome addition for the elders.  They need chairs (Laurie’s bringing some with her) for dining and additional seating and could use a couple of sewing machines for the ladies to use.  We look forward to receiving a full report on Laurie’s visit to the Rez and hopefully lots of pictures too.

The elder honoring party for women over 70 will take place this Sunday on Mother’s Day.  Male elders will have their turn to be honored on Father’s Day in June.  We had an overwhelming response to Jerome’s request for help with food for this party, a big heartfelt thanks to everyone contributing.  It’s a little late to be asking for gifts for the party on Sunday but their needs are ongoing and Jerome can deliver them any time.   He suggested Polident, Polygrip, denture containers, towel/washcloth, nail clippers, toiletry items, coffee and tea.  Not sure we would want to be honored with Polident but it is something they need and most can’t afford to buy it.  The same gift list is good for elder men too, please send your donations here.

If you would like to help the elders in Wanblee please join us as we try to make their center a little more comfortable and inviting for them.   Please share your ideas for the center and thanks for all you do.

Here is a very good article about the food situation on Pine Ridge,








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