On November 19-20, 2009, a caravan of trucks and minivans revved engines northward, deep into Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation, marking the eighth annual Thanksgiving outreach by Colorado Christian University to Northern Arapaho Tribe members living in the Ethete and Arapahoe areas. Three-hundred turkeys and hams, nearly 500 pounds of canned food, two tons of flour, and 20 thirty-two-gallon bags swollen with clothing were given to more than 300 families and senior citizens. And, judging by the warm reception, what some tribe members had formerly approached as unwanted charity had now become a familiar holiday event.
"What was special about this trip was that we felt for the first time that they were looking for us, expecting our arrival," said Jim McCormick, CCU Vice President for Student Development, who has led the effort to gather and transport donations since the very first trip in 2002. This year, the team arrived at one of the largest direct distributions seen in CCU's decade-long relationship with the community. "In some years, we've had to leave donations at the senior center for distribution later," McCormick explained. "But this year we had lines at both distribution centers."
The Thanksgiving outreach to the Northern Arapaho began when McCormick's father-in-law, a pastor from Saratoga, Wyo., met a local liaison between the tribe and the state governor's office. Through their interactions, he learned of many immediate needs of the tribe -- many of whom are living near the poverty line -- and ways in which volunteers could help. The conversation eventually found McCormick, who suggested a CCU-sponsored clothing and food drive. To allow students to focus on the University's already scheduled Thanksgiving trip to serve the Navajo in the Southwest's Four Corners region, he decided to recruit participants only from among faculty and staff. That first year saw donations of 100 turkeys and numerous clothing items by nearly 30 employees and their families.
This year, nearly 100 faculty and staff members from CCU joined the effort. The generous payload was topped off by Dennison Elementary School providing the bulk of canned goods and ConAgra Foods contributing the flour. Based on enthusiastic feedback from those who received care packages, as well as tripled student participation in the most recent Four Corners trip, CCU is considering adding a new Northern Arapaho trip to its CCU2theWorld student-missions lineup. The proposed weeklong trip would provide a Vacation Bible School and sports clinics for local youth.
"Participating in the annual outreaches to the Northern Arapaho and Navajo tribes is a great way to serve the Native American community -- a culture integral to the roots of our nation, and communities where many people currently live in hardship," McCormick commented. "It also helps our faculty and staff members unite in hands-on ways to fulfill CCU's shared vision of serving others."