Not long ago, Lori Pierce got mad.
And as a result, a handful of hard-pressed farm families in sub-zero South Dakota are about to receive money and holiday packages full of the basics--from soap and shampoo to baking supplies and warm clothing--that they cannot afford.
"I got sick and tired of hearing about us supplying millions of dollars to foreign governments who then do not even support the U.S. in a vote at the United Nations," declared the Rolling Hills Estates resident. "I thought, 'We've got to help our own people.' "
So, Pierce got on the phone and started her own version of Farm Aid--the recent celebrity concert that raised money for American farmers facing foreclosure.
"Mine doesn't have a name," she said. "It's just giving someone a hand up, not a handout."
Through the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, Pierce contacted Father Roger Geditz, a Catholic priest in southeastern South Dakota, where the snow is high, the temperature low and money scarce because falling prices have forced farmers to sell their corn, beans and cattle at a loss. Geditz, in turn, put Pierce in touch with four families scattered among several rural towns.
"These are families that really need help," said Pierce, who runs a public relations business out of her home. "One family member had brain tumor surgery in the summer, another family has a bank foreclosing on their farm and their bank account has been frozen."
Pierce's husband, Richard, posted a notice about the project at J. Herman Co., Air Conditioning, the Los Angeles manufacturing company he owns. That brought in about $400 in cash, along with boxes and shopping bags full of jeans and sweaters, toilet paper and soap, toys and stuffed animals--even a jigsaw puzzle or two.
This week, it has all being put into several cartons to be shipped to the South Dakota families.
"About 35 people contributed--the men in the shop, office people, and even some of the suppliers who brought things in," Pierce said.
'Helping Our Own'
Shop foreman Don Gentry was the first to give to the cause, contributing $100. "The men thought this was a good idea, our helping our own," he said.
Sheet metal worker Jerry Patchin and his wife, Cheri, "adopted" one of the families--one with 10 children--and the two went through their closets, got neighbors to donate, and filled five boxes with clothing. Cheri Patchin also got West Coast Kids, a Chino clothing store, to donate new outfits for all the children.
"This makes you realize that there are a lot of people in need," Patchin said, adding that he and his wife intend to continue helping their adopted family. "Most of us make a good wage and are better off than most people, and it never hurts to share with others when you have what you need."
"I feel sorry for those people," said Bud Weatherwax, another sheet metal worker, who donated $50. "I've been reading about the farmers, and I know they're having a rough time."
Pierce said she got on the telephone again and solicited donations of 50 cartons of oranges from Sunkist Growers, vegetable seeds for spring planting from Rolling Hills Nursery, shampoo and skin care products from St. Ives Laboratories in Rolling Hills Estates, and a variety of things from Hughes Markets.
Pierce said she chose a corner of South Dakota for her project because her father was born there. "He was one of seven children, and he often talked of the horrible winters and the struggling farmers and how proud they are," she said.
And in a telephone interview, Geditz made it clear that the winters have not changed over the years: "It has been snowing since Nov. 1, and we've had a long winter already. The temperature is zero every day, but one day, it got up to 30."
The people haven't changed either, he said. "These families are proud, independent people, good people."
Geditz said prices for farm products are so low that family farmers cannot make a profit. "The people here have no cash flow, and they need the basic things, like toilet paper, soap and yeast for baking."
Trying to Hang On
Donald Beaner, whose family includes the 10 children ranging in age from 3 to 22, farms 600 acres that his great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1890s. Faced with debts that are greater that the value of the farm, Beaner said he is trying to hang on: "I've been a farmer all my life. I don't know where I'd go to make a living.
"What we really need is a profit in agriculture so we can stay here," he said by phone, "but our immediate needs are for small items like soap, the things families enjoy. We're getting the food we need."
Families like the Beaners are "hurting and a whole way of life is going," Geditz said. He said Pierce's project is a "way of saying we care about you."
And that message is getting through, Beaner said.
"It gives a guy a warm feeling inside to know that there are some people who do care."