Although December is still a month away, the staff and volunteers at the Cheyenne River Youth Project® in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, are already planning the flurry of activity that will descend on the Cokata Wiconi teen center and The Main youth center in the last weeks before Christmas. This week, they started making preparations for CRYP’s 3rd annual Christmas Artists’ Market, which will take place at 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, December 8 at Cokata Wiconi.
That means Cheyenne River artists, vendors, craftspeople and chefs should contact the youth project, which is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, to reserve spots.
“If you’re interested in selling your artwork, crafts or food at the artists’ market, we encourage you to call us at (605) 964-8200 and book your spot now, as space is limited,” said Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director. “Booths are $15 apiece, and all booth fees benefit our youth programming and services. Vendors keep all their own proceeds.”
In addition to the vendor booths, which will include CRYP tables loaded with produce, crafts and other goodies from the Keya Gift Shop, the Christmas Artists’ Market will feature dazzling Christmas Toy Shop decor, visits with Santa Claus, photo opportunities and plenty of warm smiles and great company.
“We truly want Cokata Wiconi to be a gathering place for our community, and we feel the annual Christmas Artists’ Market is a beautiful way for our friends, family and neighbors to come together, celebrate the season and perhaps even earn a little extra income along the way,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We look forward to this event every year, and this one is particularly special as we’re in the midst of celebrating 25 years of service to Cheyenne River.”
Also in early December, CRYP will be hosting Christmas parties for the children and teens it serves throughout the year. At 4-7 p.m. on Monday, December 9, 4- to 12-year-olds can celebrate Christmastime at The Main; the teens will have their own party at Cokata Wiconi on Tuesday, December 10, at 5-8 p.m.
“These parties really are highlights on the social calendar,” Eagle Hunter said. “Each year, we make sure the kids can enjoy beautiful decorations, holiday music, a hearty supper, sweet treats, games, prizes and even movies. We try to ensure that each event is a real blowout, because after they’re finished, we close the doors at both centers until the new year.”
Indeed, CRYP staff needs to close the teen and youth centers to kids so it can fully transform Cokata Wiconi into a 24-hour Santa’s Workshop for the annual Christmas Toy Drive. All hands are needed, from every staff member to every volunteer, some of whom will travel cross-country and even overseas in early December specifically to take part in this long-running, broad-reaching program.
They will be soliciting donations, raising funds and arranging trucks to bring gifts from other locations to Cheyenne River. Once the gifts arrive at CRYP’s East Lincoln Street campus, they will be sorting, wrapping and preparing to distribute literally thousands of Christmas presents; this year’s goal is to fulfill the “Dear Santa” wishes of 1,500 children in more than 20 communities across the remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River reservation.
Each participating child receives one or two gifts from his or her “Dear Santa” list, plus much-needed winter clothing. And with autumn in full swing, Cheyenne River’s families are busy completing their special “Dear Santa” letters on behalf of their children. These letters let CRYP know which gifts are most wanted — and what sizes of clothing, shoes, hats, gloves and mittens are most needed.
As the letters flood into the CRYP offices, staff and volunteers continue to solicit funds and in-kind donations from individuals and organizations around the world so they can fulfill all of those special holiday wishes. They match the Santa lists with just the right gifts and deliver beautifully wrapped packages to eager children and their grateful families, whether the families come in to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus on Christmas Eve at Cokata Wiconi or await a special visit from Santa and the elves on Christmas Day.
To them, the annual Christmas Toy Drive means everything. And to CRYP, Christmas is a hard and fast deadline that absolutely must be met. It’s a tremendous undertaking, one that requires substantial resources as well as time. Garreau acknowledged that CRYP would not be able to provide a happy Christmas for so many children without the financial contributions, gift donations and volunteer time provided by supporters around the country, and even around the world.
Over the last decade, important Christmas Toy Drive partners have included Christian Relief Services Charities; Running Strong for American Indian Youth; the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community; the Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation; the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation; the St. Louis Chapter of CRYP; Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado; and Fredericks Peebles & Morgan in Louisville, Colorado.
Then there are the volunteers. Some are members of the local community. Others are current and former CRYP volunteers who stay through Christmas or return especially for the holiday season to help sort and wrap packages and assist with distribution and delivery. They come from all corners of the United States and from as far away as England, Ireland and Germany.
If you would like to support CRYP’s Christmas Toy Drive this holiday season, please see the sidebars accompanying this article for detailed information. Every contribution, no matter the size, will ensure that Cheyenne River’s children receive what all children should have: a very merry Christmas.
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.