Although the Cheyenne River Youth Project had to close its facilities last month to help combat the spread of Covid-19, the nonprofit youth organization didn’t stop seeking new, creative ways to continue serving its community. In fact, the staff immediately devised a new program to maintain its connection with Cheyenne River’s children.
For the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, CRYP will be distributing nutritious, balanced meals at “The Main” youth center, which normally provides programs, special events, meals and snacks for 4- to 12-year-olds. Children may come at 5-5:30 p.m. daily to receive their sack meals.
“Our mission in this community hasn’t changed with Covid-19; in fact, pursuing that mission has become even more urgent, because our kids have relied on us to be there for them for more than 30 years,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “They rely on us, and as Jerica Widow, our youth programs director, has said to me, ‘We are their normal.’ With this crisis, they have lost everything that’s normal — and for far too many, they’ve also lost safe spaces, positive role models, and even food security.
“At the very least, we want to make sure they are able to access a healthy, hearty meal each day,” she continued. “And we want to maintain our connection with them, because they’ve lost so much. They cannot lose us, as well.”
The CRYP staff is working hard on the new Sack Meal Program. One evening, young people enjoyed pigs in a blanket with an apple, string cheese, Pop Tart and orange juice. Another evening, they had lasagna, chips, orange, doughnut holes and juice; and on yet another occasion, they had homemade pizza pockets with an orange, chips, chocolate and juice.
Anthony Potter, one of CRYP’s dedicated youth programs assistants, is serving as in-house chef. As word has spread, the crowd outside The Main has grown; Garreau said they are currently feeding up to 50 children daily, and that number is like to grow to 100 and even 150 as the program reaches out to teens as well.
“We’re probably spending $1,000 to $1,500 every couple of weeks to make sure these kids can eat,” she said. “We’re so grateful to our local Dairy Queen in Eagle Butte and its proprietors, Lonnie and Jackie Heier, who helped us get the food items we’re not able to find in stores right now. We’re grateful to our friends and supporters who are donating to CRYP to help us cover costs, and I’m in awe of my staff, which is hustling every day to meet challenges head-on. We will continue in this effort as long as we have the resources, or until there is no longer a need.”
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.