Less than three weeks remain before Christmas Eve and the arrival of Santa Claus on the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation. More than 1,600 children are eagerly awaiting his sleigh, hoping to receive the special gifts they shared with him in their Dear Santa letters.

Bringing Christmas to hundreds of families in 20 communities across the remote, 2.8-million reservation is a massive undertaking. It’s a lot of gifts. But the toy drive is about so much more than that. For too many Cheyenne River families, household budgets simply cannot stretch to cover winter clothes, much less holiday gifts and all the seasonal trimmings and trappings. That can take its toll on children here, who don’t understand why Christmas magic seems to belong to so many others, but not to them.

Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director, recalled witnessing a little boy turn down the opportunity to tell Santa Claus what he wanted for Christmas.

“He said, ‘Why should I? I’m not going to get it anyway. I ask for it every year,’” she said. “That broke my heart, to see a child without hope—to see him discount the possibility that he might receive something precious to him, and that he might experience a heartfelt wish coming true. That’s why we work so hard at CRYP during the holiday season. Our children often have to grow up way too fast due to circumstances beyond their control. On Christmas, at least for one day, they should get to celebrate the joy of just being a kid.”

This year, as they do every year, more than 1,600 children are relying on the nonprofit, grassroots youth project to bring Santa Claus to Cheyenne River this Christmas. These children wrote heartfelt letters to Santa in the hope that he would bring a little extra happiness and magic to their homes; and CRYP staff, volunteers and supporters are once again joining forces forces to ensure that each child will receive two or three gifts from his or her personal letter, as well as much-needed winter clothing and shoes.

There are so many ways to help. Many supporters choose to adopt a Dear Santa letter and fulfill that child’s Christmas wishes. Some coordinate local toy drives and ship the gifts to Cheyenne River. Others volunteer their time at CRYP’s Eagle Butte campus, sorting and wrapping gifts in the days leading up to the holiday. And still others make financial contributions, or buy raffle tickets in the hopes of winning an authentic, handmade Lakota star quilt.

“Since we started the Christmas Toy Drive in 1990, it’s grown from a modest effort to manage in-kind donations into a national movement that is, at its heart, a Christmas miracle,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “I’m amazed every year at how we all come together to bring Santa Claus to Cheyenne River. It’s a beautiful testament to what we can do when we unite with a common purpose—and to the power of kindness, generosity and love.”

If you would like to support the Christmas Toy Drive this holiday season, click here to learn more about the many ways you can help. Every contribution, no matter the size, will ensure that Cheyenne River’s children receive what they most richly deserve: a very merry Christmas.

For information about the Winter Star Quilt Raffle, click here, and to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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.