Generosity of 'Man Who Had Nothing' Inspires Others to Give to the Less Fortunate
Friday, November 17, 2000
BY FELICIA JORDAN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOVELAND, Colo. -- Lewis Trujillo embodied the American Indian tradition of sharing what you have with others, even if you don't have much to share.
Two years after his death, his brothers and sisters continue his work through the organization he founded, Night Walker Enterprises, which provides low-income people living on 32 different Indian reservations with clothing, furniture, school supplies, household goods and other things they need.
The program also encourages educational opportunities on the reservations by providing schools with needed equipment and giving scholarships to students, said Vern Night Walker, Lewis' brother.
Members of the Night Walker/Trujillo family, who are of Ute Indian descent, alternate using their Christian and Indian names, he said.
"One of the reasons Night Walker has continued is in memory of my brother Lewis," Vern said. "Here was a man who had nothing who found a way to bring help to Native Americans."
Lewis started the organization in 1986 after seeing a report on "60 Minutes" about how children on a South Dakota reservation weren't going to school regularly because they had no warm clothes to wear.
Lewis didn't have much money; he was disabled because of heart problems.
"My brother had nothing, but he did have a 4-wheel-drive truck free and clear," Vern said.
Lewis sold his truck and began purchasing bundles of surplus clothing from the Salvation Army to ship to South Dakota reservations.
"I was amazed with what my own brother did, what he accomplished," Vern said.
Since then, Night Walker volunteers have delivered Christmas toys and candy to more than 385,000 reservation children. They have delivered 7.2 million pounds of clothing, 845,000 pounds of food and 676,000 pounds of textbooks and teaching materials to reservations.
In addition, volunteers have hauled 12 semi-truck loads of school desks, chairs and audiovisual equipment to reservation schools.
The Fort Collins-based organization depends on donations of money and goods to operate, Vern said. Cash donations pay for gas, food and lodging for volunteer drivers delivering supplies to reservations as well as funding one paid position held by Birdie Wilson, Vern's sister.
Birdie runs Night Walker's retail store which sells American Indian crafts, artwork, clothing, jewelry, music and books.
The organization buys goods from American Indian artists and sells them at a profit in the store. All profits are used to help fund Night Walker, Vern said.
Volunteers buy many new toys and clothes as well as accepting used items in good condition, he said.
"We try to be respectful," Birdie said. "If we wouldn't want our children or grandchildren to wear it, we don't want it."
The organization takes requests from the reservations for items they need. Volunteers do their best to round up the items.
"At one time, we had a request for 100 baby seats on one particular reservation because they found a lot of children were being hurt in accidents," Vern said.
They also have donated books to Cheyenne Children Services in Lame Deer, Mont., to replenish those destroyed in a fire.
Local groups have donated the use of trucks and trailers to the organization, while the landlord of the space occupied by the retail store allows them to pay reduced rent, Vern said.
Ninety percent of donations to Night Walker go directly to help people on reservations, he said.
Now a trusted philanthropic organization, Night Walker has come a long way from the days when Lewis shipped clothing to reservations at his own expense. But the program still retains his enthusiasm for giving.
Birdie remembered how her mother pinched pennies one summer to buy Lewis a decent winter coat for school. A week after she bought the coat, Lewis, then 15, gave it away to a homeless man he saw lying near the Fort Collins railroad tracks.
"Mother was horrified. She cried, 'I worked all summer long and saved pennies to get you a coat,' " Birdie said.
Lewis replied, "Well, someone needed it worse than I did."