November is here, and that means the staff and volunteers at Cheyenne River Youth Project® in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, are deep into holiday preparations. Not only are they undertaking the gargantuan task of ensuring that Santa Claus comes to 1,500 children across the 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River reservation, they are planning the youth project’s 4th annual Christmas Craft Fair and its eagerly anticipated holiday parties for children and teens.
The 4th annual Christmas Craft Fair is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 16 at CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center. Cheyenne River artists, vendors, craftspeople, chefs, and bakers should contact the youth project immediately to reserve their spots.
“If you’re interested in selling your artwork, crafts, food, or baked goods at the craft 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. “Tables are $15 apiece, and all table fees benefit our youth programming and services. Vendors keep all their own proceeds.”
In addition to the vendor tables, which will include CRYP tables loaded with produce, crafts, and other goodies from the Keya Gift Shop, the Christmas Craft Fair will feature dazzling Christmas Toy Shop decor, visits with Santa Claus, photo opportunities, refreshments, and plenty of holiday cheer.
“We named our teen center Cokata Wiconi because we’ve always intended for it to be a center of life, a gathering place, for the Cheyenne River community,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We look forward to our Christmas Craft Fair every year, because it’s the perfect opportunity for our friends, family, and neighbors to come together, celebrate the holiday season, share their homemade goods, and earn a little extra income in the process. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Then, in early December, CRYP will host its annual Christmas parties for the children and teens it serves throughout the year. On Thursday evening, December 4, the 4- to 12-year-olds who attend The Main youth center will have a special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” party, complete with a delicious meal, gingerbread houses, plenty of arts and crafts, and that signature 1964 TV movie that is now a true holiday classic.
On Friday evening, December 5, the teens will converge on Cokata Wiconi for their holiday party. Eagle Hunter said she anticipates this evening event will incorporate movies, games, crafts, gingerbread houses, and that beloved late-night pursuit, Midnight Basketball.
She also noted that these parties are major highlights on the social calendar for Cheyenne River’s young people.
“In the last weeks before Christmas, we can’t open our youth and teen centers for the kids as often as we’d like,” she explained. “The Christmas Toy Drive is such a huge program, it takes every pair of hands and every available hour.
“So each year, we make sure that our kids have a special night to enjoy the beautiful decorations, holiday music, a hearty evening meal, sweet treats, games, prizes, movies, and fun activities,” she continued. “Each event needs to be a major happening, because then we close the doors at both centers until after New Year’s Day.”
Starting Saturday, December 6, CRYP’s staff and volunteers will fully transform Cokata Wiconi into a 24-hour Santa’s Workshop for the 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 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 at Cokata Wiconi or await a special visit from Santa and the elves at their homes.
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 our “How to Help” 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.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.