Less than a week remains in the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s 2019 Family Services membership drive. Until next Thursday, Oct. 31, Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation residents who begin or renew their Family Services memberships will receive a $5 discount off the annual membership fee—and have the opportunity to fill out “Dear Santa” letters for all the children in their households.

These letters allow Cheyenne River families to participate in CRYP’s annual Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive, a long-running program that serves more than 1,700 children in 20 communities scattered across the remote, 2.8-million-acre reservation. In the letters, children may request specific gifts, from toys to winter clothing and shoes, that will make the holiday season a little more joyful for themselves and their families.

“In order to have enough time to coordinate the many thousands of gift items for our families, we need to start sending the ‘Dear Santa’ letters to our partners around the country during the first week of November,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We’re encouraging people to stop by our main offices in Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) in the next few days so they can secure their memberships at the discounted price, and then work with their children to fill out and return the letters right away.”

The grassroots, nonprofit youth organization created its Family Services program in 2002 to manage the increasing amounts of donated supplies it was receiving year-round. To participate in the program, all local families need to do is pay the annual membership fee. That small one-time payment covers all family members in the household for the entire year, and the proceeds support the program infrastructure so Family Services can remain a reliable community resource in the years to come.

“For that single fee, a Cheyenne River family can participate in all of our Family Services distributions, from school supplies, to winter clothing and shoes, to the Christmas Toy Drive,” Garreau explained. “They also can pick up important household supplies, including baby items, on a regular basis.”

CRYP surveys show that most member households use Family Services once per quarter, although a sizable group does come in once per month. The majority of member households participate in the organized annual distributions.

The most beloved, by far, is the toy drive. Started in 1990 as the Christmas Toy Drive, CRYP renamed the program Wo Otúh’an Wi this year to reflect the traditional Lakota values that lie at its heart. In Lakota, the phrase means, “the moon of giving away presents.”

According to Garreau, the program has always been about generosity, and caring for the community.

“One of the best ways to support our kids is to support their families,” she said. “Through Family Services and the Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive, not only can we help make life a bit easier for parents, guardians and care-givers, we can give our children a little extra joy and magic, we can give them at least one day to just be kids, and we can let them know how precious and deeply loved they are.”

To to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@lakotayouth and @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.

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