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Trail of Hope helps struggling reservation families

SAN DIEGO - Kathleen Brewer moved away from her reservation when she was just a young child. But the mother of four and grandmother of two never forgot where she came from, and would pack her car full of clothing, shoes and miscellaneous items to distribute to her family in need on her regular visits to the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

But it never seemed like enough, and her heart ached when her eyes beheld the in-your-face poverty on every visit to San Carlos. The desire to help her people was constantly tugging at her, and when the feelings became overwhelming, she started the nonprofit called Trail of Hope in 2004.

Trail of Hope has made large-scale charitable runs to San Carlos, and has an ongoing program that donates clothes, shoes and furnishings to needy urban Natives who are referred by any Indian agency. ''My heart will always be for Indian people,'' Brewer said.

When Brewer was planning the first run down to San Carlos, she called on the help of southern California tribes from Riverside and San Diego counties - from Pechanga on down to Sycuan - to help make the first charity drive a success.

The tribes delivered. On the first run, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians donated a 24 ft. U-Haul; and by the next year, the nonprofit made the trek down to San Carlos with three U-Hauls.

In December 2006, Trail of Hope was blessed when the Teamsters Union donated a 48 ft. diesel truck and driver. Pepsi Cola Inc. and local churches pitched in funds and charitable goods. About 19 volunteers helped make Trail of Hope's largest distribution a success.

''It's hard work, but fun at the same time,'' she said. ''The end result is that a child gets a bed to sleep on, and a family gets a dinner table to sit at.''

Brewer was raised in the Mojave Desert. As a child, her mom would load up their car and take charitable items back to the reservation during family visits. She credits her mother for instilling in the value of giving.

San Carlos is considered one of the poorest tribes in the nation, as families struggle to meet their basic needs. About 94 percent of the roughly 14,000 residents live below the poverty line.

''We are rich in tradition, but we lack a lot of material goods,'' she said. ''They are living in shacks or 20 people are living in one house because there isn't enough housing.''

For the first time this year, Trail of Hope plans on selecting another struggling reservation, with the next trip slated for November. ''I am searching for reservations that want our assistance,'' she said.

Roselyn Aguinaga made the trip last year with nearly a dozen of her husband's relations. She recalled her trip as an emotional rollercoaster. She described the Apache people as proud, only taking what they needed. Volunteers would tell the people, including the children, to take more items.

''It was so heartwarming, and I can't say enough about it,'' she said. ''Ever since I've been back I've been asking for donations.''

There were enough items to donate to more than 300 families at the time, yet there was only one freezer. They held a raffle and the freezer went to a woman whose family are subsistence hunters.

''She was praying for a freezer and won the freezer,'' Brewer said.

It was just one of the few miracles that Brewer and volunteers experienced on their journey.

Brewer has her master's degree in social work and currently serves as the director of Community Health and Outreach at the San Diego American Indian Health Center.

Even though the next charity drive is slated for November, Trail of Hope needs to start planning its next journey. They need donations and volunteers to help make this trip a success. Contact Brewer at (619) 258-5471 or