For most people, October means fall decorations, carving pumpkins and planning costumes. At the Cheyenne River Youth Project, however, October means Christmas.
CRYP has officially launched its 2018 Christmas Toy Drive, which serves more than 1,500 children in 20 communities across South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Lakota Nation. The grassroots, nonprofit youth organization is seeking organizational partners and individual supporters around the country to help fulfill the many hundreds of “Dear Santa” letters that will flood into CRYP headquarters in the weeks to come. (Look for the link at the end of this article if you’d like to learn more about how you can help.)
“October is our membership renewal month for our Family Services program,” explains Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “When families renew their annual memberships, they receive ‘Dear Santa’ letters for each child in their households. The children fill out those letters with their heartfelt Christmas wishes, and they return them to us by Nov. 15.”
Launched in 1990, the Christmas Toy Drive is the longest-running, most deeply beloved distribution in CRYP’s Family Services program, and it’s a herculean undertaking. It’s not only about the sheer numbers; it’s about the unique format of this particular toy drive.
“With so many holiday toy drives, gifts are assigned to genders and ages,” Garreau says. “You’ll see tags for ‘Boy, Age 5’ and ‘Girl, Age 9.’ Since the beginning, we’ve insisted on keeping this personal. When our children give us their letters to Santa, they’re letting him know what toys they’d like… what dreams and wishes they have. And when our donors sponsor the letters, they’re fulfilling the specific wishes of each individual child.
“When Christmas arrives, our kids see festive packages with their names on them,” she continues. “When they open their gifts, they see that Santa made some of their wishes come true. And, they feel the true magic of the holiday season, which we believe all children should experience.”
While Garreau admits that this level of personalization has become challenging given the massive 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 Europe — are determined to deliver. That might mean working around the clock, but it’s worth it.
“Our children, and their families, rely on us to be here for them,” Garreau says. “For too many people here on Cheyenne River, there’s no room in the household budget for gifts. Our unemployment rate is roughly 75 percent, and more than half of households with children under age 18 fall below the poverty line.
“That means our kids have to grow up fast, and bear the weight of adult worries far too soon,” she adds. “They feel the added stress during the holiday season, and they certainly feel the sadness when there are no gifts on Christmas morning. We feel that sadness too, because they should have that one day to just be kids.”
That’s why CRYP started its annual Christmas Toy Drive 28 years ago, and it’s why staff members, volunteers and community members remain dedicated to delivering 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.
If you would like to learn more about how you can help support the Christmas Toy Drive this holiday season, 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.
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.