It’s official: The Cheyenne River Youth Project served a record number of children in its 29th annual Christmas Toy Drive. The nonprofit, grassroots organization also has released touching photographs from this year’s drive.

CRYP brought Santa Claus to more than 1,700 children across 20 reservation communities in 2018, a herculean task that was made possible through the support of the St. Louis Chapter of CRYP, Colorado Chapter of CRYP, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation, Square, Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, Gitlin Family Foundation, Toys for Tots, the Rapid City Woodworkers Association and a broad range of additional nonprofit partners, businesses, schools and individuals across the country. 

“We’re so grateful to our donors and partners, as well as to all the dedicated volunteers who helped bring Santa to our kids,” says Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “This is such an important program, for many reasons. It’s not just about toys. It’s about bringing a little joy and magic into the lives of our children, who have to grow up far too fast here. It’s about letting them just be kids, and showing them how loved and treasured they are. It’s about easing the burden on their families. It’s really about making dreams come true. 

Each year, CRYP staff and volunteers make sure that every child who writes a “Dear Santa” letter gets four gifts from that letter, which means working around the clock sort and wrap literally thousands of presents. It also means that donors and volunteers across the country are busy in their own communities, adopting letters, fulfilling precious Christmas wishes, and coordinating all the logistics to make sure the gifts make it to South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Lakota Nation in time for the holiday.

In December, big trucks pulled into CRYP’s 4th Street campus from Missouri and Colorado, bearing the precious fruit of local toy drives spearheaded by the St. Louis and Colorado chapters of CRYP. The latter now includes Fairview High School and the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business in Boulder; Lennar Homes, American Indian College Fund and Evolve Vacation Rental Network in Denver; and Fredericks Peebles & Morgan in Louisville. 

And over the course of many weeks, donations and financial contributions pour into Eagle Butte from everywhere — even overseas. It’s a deeply personal effort, one that connects each child to those who want to make the Christmas holiday a special one for that child. 

“Ever since we started the Christmas Toy Drive in 1990, we’ve been dedicated to keeping it personal,” Garreau says. “We don’t just give gifts to ‘boy, age 3’ or “girl, age 8.’ We want to let the children know that they matter, that Santa knows who they are. As we’ve grown, there definitely are challenges in maintaining that level of attention, particularly when we’re short-staffed — but we’re going to keep it personal, no matter how big it gets.”

Garreau says it’s worth all the hard work and lost sleep when staff and volunteers see the relief and happiness on the faces of the parents, and the joy and hope shining in the eyes of their children.

“This really is what Christmas is all about,” she explains, “and we’re forever grateful to the many partners who make this magic happen, year after year.”

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.