As of Friday, Nov. 6, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe had 218 active cases of the novel coronavirus on its north-central South Dakota reservation. Tribal government, quickly identifying the virus’s exponential growth and severe threat to public health, activated “Level 5” of its Covid-19 response plan.

The nonprofit Cheyenne River Youth Project planned accordingly. It immediately closed its facilities to the public, while continuing to provide both Keya Cafe takeout orders and free sack meals to local children.

That’s not all. On Nov. 12, the staff will open a safe, socially distanced Youth Learning Center in the Cokata Wiconi gymnasium; this space is designed to provide access to much-needed remote-schooling resources during the tribe’s shelter-at-home order. The CRYP team also got creative with Family Services.

This past week, the youth project launched a fully automated version of the Family Services application on its website. To set up or renew a membership, the head of household now may fill out the form at He or she also may fill out “Dear Santa” letters for all household children who will be participating in this year’s Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive.

“Initially, we’d set a deadline of Nov. 1 to receive applications and ‘Dear Santa’ letters,” explained Dawn E. LeBeau, CRYP’s deputy director. “Then the recent outbreak hit, and understandably, families were concerned about coming to our facilities to fill out and return paperwork. We quickly put together a team to build a new online system that would allow the entire process to be hands-off, and help keep our people safe during this difficult time.”

As a bonus, CRYP also extended its discounted membership price: From now until Dec. 31, a membership costs $25 instead of $30. The fee covers all household members for an entire year, and it provides access to regular distributions of household items, Covid-19 relief boxes with extra cleaning supplies upon request, the annual Winter Coats & Apparel Drive, the annual School Supplies Drive, and the long-running Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive. (All distributions will be curbside, drive-thru events until further notice.)

“Although we have extended our discounted membership price to the end of the year, we’re still encouraging families to sign up or renew their memberships as soon as possible,” LeBeau said. “We’re facing new challenges on a daily basis, and we’re tackling our toy drive with a much smaller team due to the lack of volunteer groups. The earlier we receive families’ ‘Dear Santa’ letters, the quicker we can fulfill those unique and deeply personal holiday wishes.”

CRYP is still seeking supporters for Wo Otúh’an Wi, which means “Moon of Giving Away Presents” in Lakota. More information is available at

“This is a very different year, but we have families and children relying on us,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We have served them without fail for more than 30 years, and we are determined to be here for them, to keep our promises, and to do it as safely as possible.”

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.