The Cheyenne River Youth Project has announced the official launch of its 2017 Christmas Toy Drive. The nonprofit youth organization is seeking organizational partners and individual supporters around the country to help fulfill many hundreds of “Dear Santa” letters on South Dakota’s remote Cheyenne River reservation. (Click here to learn more about how to help!)
CRYP has undertaken this massive task every year since 1990. And not only have the dedicated staff and volunteers expanded the toy drive to serve more than 1,500 children in 20 communities scattered across an area the size of Connecticut, they have managed to stay true to their unique roots.
“With so many holiday toy drives, gifts are assigned to genders and ages,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “You’ll see tags for Boy, Age 10 and Girl, Age 5. We always wanted to keep this personal. Children send us their letters to Santa, which let him know what toys they’d like and what sizes they need for clothes and shoes. Our donors sponsor the letters, fulfilling each letter for that particular child. So, when Christmas arrives, our kids see festive packages with their names on them, and they’ll see that Santa made some of their wishes come true.”
While Garreau admitted that this level of personalization has become challenging given the sheer scope of the project, her staff members — and an army of volunteers who return year after year to help, some from as far away as the United Kingdom and Ireland — are determined to deliver. That might mean working around the clock, but it’s worth it.
“For so many families here on Cheyenne River, there’s simply no room in the budget for gifts,” Garreau said. “The unemployment rate is roughly 75 percent here, and more than half of households with children under age 18 fall below the poverty line.
“Our kids have to grow up fast here,” she continued. “They feel the added stress during the holiday season, and they certainly feel the sadness when there are no gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. We feel that sadness too, because we believe all children should feel joy and magic on this particular day. They should have that one day to just be kids.”
That’s why CRYP started its annual Christmas Toy Drive more than a quarter century ago, and it’s why they continue to work so hard to deliver Christmas cheer today. But it wouldn’t be possible without friends and supporters across the country, and around the world, who send funding and gifts, who volunteer their time, and who help spread the word among their families, friends and colleagues.
Throughout October and November, the team works hard to gather as many gifts as they can. Some gifts are collected at CRYP headquarters in South Dakota, while others are gathered by partner groups in Colorado’s Front Range and in St. Louis, Missouri. In early December, those groups load up rental trucks christened Rudolph I and II and send them across the prairie to CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center, which has been transformed into Santa’s Workshop for the month.
At Cokata Wiconi, staff and volunteers make sure each child will receive gifts from his or her “Dear Santa” letter as well as much-needed winter clothing and shoes. They select just the right gifts and clothes for each child and prepare beautifully wrapped, personalized packages for Christmas Eve pickups and Christmas Day deliveries.
“For our kids, the donors and volunteers are literally making Christmas happen,” Garreau said. “It’s really a nationwide movement that inspires all of us, especially when we are working around the clock in the days and weeks leading up to the holiday.”
“We’re so grateful to all of our partners who have given their time and resources so generously to brighten a child’s Christmas morning,” she added. “It’s really a miracle, what happens here every year, and we couldn’t do it without all of the people and groups who are lifting us up and spreading love, joy and hope where it is most needed.
If you would like to make a contribution to the Christmas Toy Drive this holiday season, please click here for detailed information. Every contribution directly supports CRYP’s toy drive efforts and makes a real difference in the lives of Cheyenne River’s children.
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.