The 9th Annual 2018 Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund held the big, children’s party on Jan. 10, 2019, in my building next door to the Post Office. In recent years, the Fund has focused on children in the care of Blackfeet Child & Family Services. Invitations were extended to every child in the Nurturing Center, group and foster homes, and emergency placement. Also invited were biological children of house parents so all “siblings” could attend together. As in years past, we planned for about 300 kids, and send them away with five gifts, so we had about 1,500 gifts on hand. Usually that leaves us with extra gifts to send up to the hospital, the Nurturing Center, and to outlying communities for kids that couldn’t make it to town for the party.
The HomeTown Dollar Store was moving out of my building to their new location across the street the same week we were setting up the party. So we took over their area, giving us enough room to add several new play areas for the kids, including three big-screen video gaming stations running Nintendo Switches, Xboxes, and Sony Playstations, air hockey, and two big-screen movie areas. We also had a bouncy house, indoor basketball, beading tables, tons of snacks, and a toddler’s play area with pop-up houses, crawling tubes and slides.
Some readers may recall that we used to have the parties on Dec. 30. But last year the brutal winter forced us to postpone it for several days. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we discovered that having it in early January means more children can attend, more caseworkers and volunteers are available, and we have more time to buy gifts and set up the party.
That’s why these days we call it the Blackfeet Child Services Holiday Party - it now take place a little too late to have the word Christmas in it. This year we also tried a new format of extended hours (3:30 to 8 p.m.) so families could come and go, thereby reducing overcrowding, and that worked well.
A little history. For the first two or three years, the Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund partnered with the Tribe to raise money and put on the party. But when the Tribe became largely dysfunctional in 2012-13, I decided to create a separate nonprofit so we could continue providing these parties and gift handouts for Blackfeet children. We have never missed a year, even when the Tribe was essentially closed down. So for the last few years we have operated completely independently from the Tribe, just like any other 501(c)3, and neither ask for nor use a penny in Tribal monies. Each year, about half the money comes from my family (Paisley/Guardipee) and the other half comes from our many loyal, kind-hearted, generous donors from around the world - almost all of whom are off-reservation. I deliberately do not seek donations on the reservation because we don’t need or want local funding, and besides, most households here need every penny they have for everyday expenses.
The building where we now have the party is a big old thing (The old Faught’s building) that I bought from Brian Elliott in 2012. I paid off the mortgage last year so now it’s just sitting there trying to decide what it wants to be for the next few decades. I plan on putting a new front and sides on this year (and hopefully trucks will stop driving into it!), especially since the whole neighborhood is cleaning up and looking better.
I have been talking to Blackfeet Child Services about maybe making part of it into a permanent play area/rec center/movie night theater for their kids. Those areas could also be used for birthday parties and other events, I suppose. We will shortly have some new retail operation(s) in there, but that still leaves a lot of space, so not really sure what I want to do with it. But I will keep it forever because (and this is the reason I bought it) my late father when he was a little boy ran up and down the street and bounced his basketball off my building (just like kids still do) and was no doubt in the building on many occasions. It makes me happy to be there, knowing that.
In addition to the photos accompanying this article, you can see slides of this year’s and past events at www.americanindianpartnership.org – it’s a nice reminder how beautiful and wonderful all our children are!