The Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Wo Otuh’an Wi, or “Moon of Giving Away Presents,” finally came to an end this past Friday, Jan. 15. Over the last several weeks, the nonprofit youth organization’s small staff — just 10 people — sorted, wrapped, and safely delivered thousands of gifts through curbside distributions, bringing Santa Claus to more than 265 families on the remote Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
“Christmas 2020 is officially done,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We delivered gifts for hundreds of children here on Cheyenne River, making sure that each one received four gifts from his or her unique ‘Dear Santa’ letter, as well as warm winter clothing. And due to the pandemic, we did it without any long-term or community volunteers for the first time in our 32-year history.
“I’m humbled and honored to work with such a remarkable, committed group of people here at CRYP,” she continued. “They faced hard work, long hours, delays, and deeply challenging circumstances, yet they never wavered in their determination to bring holiday joy to our community.”
Delivering that joy to Cheyenne River families was more important than ever in 2020. Not only are parents and caregivers dealing with lost income, quarantines, and sickness, their children are suffering from the loss of school, recreational and cultural activities, and gatherings with loved ones.
“Our kids have lost so much since the pandemic erupted last March,” said Dawn E. LeBeau, CRYP’s deputy director. “They couldn’t lose us too, and we knew they definitely couldn’t lose Santa Claus. We had to find a way to save Christmas.”
That effort began early in the fall. The youth project created a new Family Services system that would allow families to submit their applications and their children’s “Dear Santa’ letters entirely online. Next, its tech team came up with a plan to make those letters available to donors through the website.
“We knew that employees at many of our partner organizations were working remotely,” LeBeau explained. “They wouldn’t be able to distribute physical letters in their traditional work spaces, so we gave them a user-friendly online option for letters, as well as an Amazon wish list.”
Not only could donors adopt letters from CRYP’s online “letter store,” they also could shop online and ship the packages directly to Eagle Butte. As a result, many families’ gifts arrived at CRYP through couriers and the U.S. Postal Service this year.
CRYP did welcome its annual toy truck from Friends of Lakota Youth in St. Louis, as well as the annual toy truck from Colorado, which brought gifts from Fairview High School in Boulder and Lennar Custom Homes in the Denver metro area.
Other supporters included the American Indian College Fund; International Dream Achievers at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois; a Leeds School of Business student group at CU-Boulder; Partnership with Native Americans; Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, New Jersey; Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP in Louisville, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.; the Rapid City Woodworkers Association; the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation, and Square.
“The need is so great everywhere right now, words cannot express how deeply grateful we are that you chose us,” Garreau said. “Thanks to you, hundreds of Cheyenne River families experienced the magic of dreams coming true this year.”
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
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.