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NOEM: Recent events showcase South Dakotans' generosity

Last week, a video taken in a Sioux Falls Walmart went viral. Thousands of people from across the country tuned in and saw something South Dakotans witness often: the generosity of a neighbor paying it forward.

Carol Flynn, a retired March of Dimes state director, cancer survivor and member of the First United Methodist Church, was waiting in line when she noticed that the young mother in front of her was having trouble with a coupon she was using to purchase diapers. Instead of buying the four boxes of diapers sitting on the belt, the young mother returned three to the cart, purchasing just one. It is then that the video shows Carol quickly stepping up to the counter handing over her credit card and purchasing the three boxes that remained in the young mother’s cart. Carol asked nothing of the mother but to pay it forward and someday do the same for someone else.

While kindness, selflessness and generosity can seem like a rarity in today’s world, time and again I’m struck by how common it is in South Dakota. It’s the casseroles that come to the door when a family is hurting. It’s the many that still leave the keys in their vehicles and their homes unlocked. It’s the line of volunteers waiting to help sandbag as flood waters rise.

We’re raised to be like this in South Dakota. I visited Wessington Springs a few weeks ago after a tornado ripped through the heart of town. The site of it all made your stomach turn and my heart broke for the families who had lost their family pictures, their kids’ toys — their homes.

Over the last few weeks, a number of stories have come out about the generosity felt by Wessington Springs. I was struck by one statement in particular from a mother in Mitchell: “I had my daughter go through her toys today and she [donated] some outdoor toys … some of her books and babies and some infant toys that she’s outgrown. It makes me feel really good in my heart that my daughter is willing to give some of her toys away that she plays with every day that the kids in Wessington Springs don’t have to play with anymore.”

South Dakota is not a stranger to responding when natural disasters strike our neighbors. I’ll never forget visiting West River last October and seeing the devastation an early blizzard could cause. By the New Year, the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund had raised more than $4 million to support the impacted farmers. And last month, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation — whose membership includes many of the producers that lost cattle during the blizzard — paid it forward and made a $115,000 donation to Feeding South Dakota, which helps those in our community who need food assistance. We are so blessed in South Dakota to know that we always have a community to fall back on. It just doesn’t happen in other parts of the country. I encourage everyone reading this column to be inspired by Carol, the little girl in Mitchell and the thousands of South Dakotans not mentioned in this piece who reach out and pay it forward every day. I know I have been.

— Kristi Noem, a Republican, is South Dakota’s lone representative in the U.S. House

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