Just over the Nebraska border on the outskirts of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservaton is a town with about a dozen residents and four stores that daily sell an estimated 12,000 cans of beer.
It's a dusty, intentionally forgotten place for most, dubbed "skid row on the prairie."
A group of alcoholics loiters in the parking lots and empty buildings, panhandling and leaving behind Hurricane and Camo cans.
Depending where you look, though, Whiteclay could be considered beautiful.
It's not just the golden fields in the distance or the dirt roads so littered by crushed aluminum and colored shards of glass, they sparkle in the evening sun.
There is a colorful mural on the side of busy not-for-profit thrift store, a soup kitchen that invites street people to eat, talk and pray. There's also an artists co-op and community garden.
The programs were started by Bruce and Marsha BonFleur, who in 1998 moved to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation from Florida with their two young children.
The BonFleurs were living a typical upper-middle class life ("comfortable and getting more comfortable," says Marsha) when Bruce got the "call."
"God said, 'I want to use you, with the help of others, to restore dignity to my people. And you will do that through the creation of jobs," says Bruce.
At that time, he did not know who "my people" referred to. He began researching Lakota nation and the idea came full circle.
The BonFleurs, who have backgrounds in business building, education and publishing, first worked in the Pine Ridge schools. In 2004, they opened 555 Whiteclay, a thrift store.
Because Whiteclay is over the Nebraska border, it is the main alcohol source for nearby Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Pine Ridge is the largest city on the reservation, with a population of 15,500. No alcohol is allowed to be consumed or sold, according to tribal rules.
Reports in the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper indicate an 80 percent alcoholism rate on the reservation – one of the highest rates in the country. Resulting diseases and fatalities make the average life expectancy there mid to upper-forties.
There have been riots and protests and lots of attempted legislation over the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay, yet it continues.
With all the bitterness and recidivism, it would be easy to get discouraged or even jaded here.
Neither words describe the BonFleurs.
"God didn't call us here to shut the beer stores down. He called us here to be a light," says Bruce. "In fact, when we came here, God told my wife, 'Stop looking around at what you see and begin to praise me for the transformation that's going to take place.'"
He says God had to work on cultivating compassion in him before he could be used — enough compassion to bring to his house for dinner a drunk man covered in flies and human excrement.
Their outreach is based on relationships and jobs. The thrift store employs six tribe members, part time.
With help from mission teams, the BonFleurs are working on a large garden area with a community stage. They are finishing a work shop and storefront for the Lakota Crafters cooperative. Artists will be aided by small grants and through a microlending system in which each crafter is loaned a couple hundred dollars for supplies. The loans are to be paid back after the crafts are sold, says Bruce.
The BonFleurs have a Bible-based strategy, too.
"555," the name of the thrift store, refers to the five smooth stones David in the Bible used to slay the giant – in this case alcohol abuse. Secondly, it refers to the two fishes and five loaves of bread Jesus used to feed the multitudes he was teaching. Lastly, it references five spiritual callings Christians believe God gives his people — to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepards and teachers.
To find out more, go to: www.lakotacrafters.com or www.aboutgroup.us