Christmas is less than two months away, and individuals and organizations around the country are working hard to fulfill the “Dear Santa” wishes of 1,500 children here on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. That includes schoolchildren, families and businesses in the state of Colorado.
Last year, CRYP served 1,200 children in 20 reservation communities; 650 of those “Dear Santa” letters were fulfilled by the community in Boulder, Colorado, where Fairview High School has been a major Christmas Toy Drive partner for the better part of a decade. Additional Colorado gifts came from University Bicycles in Boulder, from Louisville-based law firm Fredericks Peebles & Morgan and from Deborah Smith, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who lives in Colorado Springs. Smith coordinated donations for 138 children in the Colorado Springs and Denver metro areas.
According to CRYP Executive Director Julie Garreau, the 25-year-old, not-for-profit youth organization is hoping to bring Christmas joy to 1,500 children across Cheyenne River this year. And, she said, they need Colorado’s help in reaching that goal.
“The state of Colorado has been a powerful force in the growth of our annual Christmas Toy Drive in the last several years,” Garreau said. “Thanks to the kindness, generosity and dedication of the Colorado people, we’ve been able to serve increasing numbers of children each year — children who otherwise might have nothing underneath the tree on Christmas morning.”
On Cheyenne River, where the unemployment rate hovers around 75 percent, roughly 50 percent of households fall below the poverty level. Of the reservation’s two counties, Ziebach is the poorest in the United States, with Dewey in the top 10.
Thanks to CRYP’s annual Christmas Toy Drive, each participating child receives one or two gifts from his or her Santa list, plus much-needed winter clothing. And with 1,500 children eagerly waiting for Santa, that means staff and volunteers in Eagle Butte must sort, wrap and distribute literally thousands of presents.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that donors and volunteers are literally making Christmas happen — they’re bringing all the joy and magic of the holiday into our families’ homes,” Garreau observed. “That knowledge inspires all of us, especially when we’re working such long hours for days and even weeks prior to the holiday.”
Garreau also said Coloradans’ indomitable spirit in the wake of this fall’s disastrous flooding has inspired her staff, volunteers and even the larger Cheyenne River community.
“There is such a bond between Cheyenne River and Colorado, particularly the Boulder area due to our long relationship with Fairview High School,” she said. “During the flooding, many of our neighbors here were anxiously inquiring about families in Boulder, worried for their well-being. The fact that these dedicated teens and their community are continuing to work hard to bring Christmas to our kids in the wake of such tragedy — there simply are no words for that depth of friendship.”
On Thursday, December 12, a 26-foot rental truck affectionately christened Rudolph One will make its annual stops at Louisville-based Fredericks Peebles & Morgan and then at Fairview High School, where teenage students will join forces to load hundreds upon hundreds of carefully selected and wrapped gifts that fulfill individual “Dear Santa” wishes of so many children on Cheyenne River.
Senior Laura Jamison is this year’s student leader, and she is working closely with CRYP staff to arrange the local Boulder drive so everything is ready to roll northward on December 12.
Garreau acknowledged that CRYP would not be able to provide a happy Christmas for so many children without the generous donations of gifts, funds and wrapping supplies that pour into Eagle Butte from around the country, and even around the world. The Colorado Christmas truck will make an enormous difference in CRYP’s Christmas Toy Drive.
But there’s still more to be done — and there’s still time to help. To learn more about the Christmas Toy Drive, CRYP and its many programs and services, call (605) 964-8200 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.
“I always remind people that they’re giving our children something much more important than toys,” Julie Garreau noted. “You’re giving them a sense of normalcy, letting them know that they deserve this holiday, just like other kids. You’re giving them happiness, a feeling of being loved and treasured. And you’re giving them hope.”