Christmas is a little more than two weeks away, which means the clock is winding down for Cheyenne River Youth Project® staff and volunteers as they prepare to bring Santa Claus to 1,500 children across South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre reservation. More than 300 “Dear Santa” letters remain to be adopted — but it’s not too late to help.
“All you need to do is contact us for a ‘Dear Santa’ letter, which will contain a child’s wish list for Santa and his or her shoe and clothing sizes,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Or, if you would prefer to contribute funds, you can donate through our website at lakotayouth.org. We’ll do the shopping on our end, ensuring that every child who wrote to Santa will have something special underneath the tree this year.
“Donated funds also will help us feed and house the many volunteers from around the world who come to support us during the Christmas Toy Drive,” she continued. “We couldn’t do it without their help, so we are grateful for any financial support we can get.”
The countdown to Christmas is serious business right now at CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center, which the staff has transformed into a full-time Santa’s Workshop. Already, staff members and volunteers have welcomed Rudolph I, a large truck bearing gifts collected by the St. Louis Chapter of CRYP in St. Louis.
Last Friday, Rudolph II arrived from Colorado, after collecting gifts at Fairview High School in Boulder, CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, Fredericks Peebles & Morgan in Louisville, the American Indian College Fund in Denver, and Lennar Colorado, also based in the Denver metro area. And a third truck, Rudolph III, comes every year from Running Strong for American Indian Youth in Alexandria, Virginia.
Preparing thousands of gifts for Cheyenne River’s children, each of whom will receive two to three gifts from his or her “Dear Santa” letter plus much-needed winter clothes and shoes, then becomes an around-the-clock endeavor. Volunteers who are arriving from around the country and even overseas will join staff members in sorting, wrapping, and organizing thousands of gifts.
Large boxes overflowing with beautifully wrapped presents will line Cokata Wiconi’s public spaces, classrooms, and hallways, destined for hundreds of families in 20 reservation communities. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, some families will come to Cokata Wiconi to pick up their gifts and visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, while others will be thrilled to welcome Santa and the elves to their homes.
“Everyone really pulls together to make sure Santa Claus arrives on Cheyenne River on time,” Garreau said. “We are an impoverished nation, and most families simply don’t have room in their budgets for gifts. Without the toy drive, they wouldn’t have anything underneath their trees. So this means a great deal to our community.”
Since CRYP started the Christmas Toy Drive in 1990, just two years after it opened its first all-volunteer youth center in an old Main Street bar, the drive has grown to become a truly massive grassroots movement. Dedicated individuals, businesses and organizations around the world provide funds, adopt letters and contribute priceless volunteer hours to make sure Cheyenne River’s children get to experience all the joy and magic of the holiday season.
It’s not just about toys, however.
“We’re on our second generation of children now, and the toy drive has gotten bigger than we ever could have imagined,” Garreau reflected. “But we’ve managed to keep it personal. Our children receive special gifts chosen specifically for them based on the heartfelt wishes they shared, based on who they are. We work hard to make that happen, because it shows them that they are loved, they are treasured, and they are important. That’s the spirit of the season for us, and it means everything.”
If you would like to support CRYP’s Christmas Toy Drive this holiday season, click here for detailed information. Every contribution, no matter the size, makes a difference in the lives of Cheyenne River’s children, and their families.
To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@waniyetuwowapi).
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.