In just 12 weeks, the Cheyenne River Youth Project will bring Santa Claus to South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, where he will deliver thousands of personalized Christmas gifts to more than 1,500 children from 20 communities. Time is short for such a herculean undertaking, so in these early days of autumn, CRYP has officially announced the kickoff of its 2019 Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive.
To support the Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive and help make a child’s dreams come true this holiday season, please click here. Every contribution directly supports CRYP’s gift-giving efforts and makes a real difference in the lives of Cheyenne River’s children.
The grassroots, nonprofit youth organization has held this toy drive for nearly 30 years and is now serving its second generation of Lakota children. Although the name of the long-running, deeply beloved program is new, its heart remains the same.
“Wo Otúh’an Wi means ‘the moon of giving away presents,’” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It captures the spirit of the Christmas season, and of Santa Claus, in a way that also resonates with traditional Lakota values.
“In the last few years, we’ve worked hard to incorporate more Lakota language, culture and life ways into all of our programs,” she continued. “We’ve discovered that giving Lakota names to our programs is yet another way to strengthen the connection our young people have with their culture.”
CRYP is currently seeking organizational partners and individual supporters around the country to help fulfill the many hundreds of “Dear Santa” letters that will flood into CRYP headquarters in the weeks to come.
“October is our membership renewal month for our Family Services program,” explains Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “When families begin or renew their annual memberships, they receive ‘Dear Santa’ letters for all the children in their households. The kids fill those letters with their heartfelt Christmas wishes, and they return them to us by Oct. 31.”
Each year, the youth project receives 1,500 or more “Dear Santa” letters. Although the numbers are impressive, the Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive is really about fulfilling unique, precious childhood wishes.
“With so many holiday toy drives, gifts are assigned to genders and ages,” Garreau explained. “You’ll see tags for ‘Boy, Age 4’ and ‘Girl, Age 8.’ Since the beginning, we’ve insisted on keeping this personal. When our children give us their letters to Santa, and when they let him know what toys they’d like, they’re really sharing their dreams.
“When Christmas arrives, our kids see beautifully wrapped packages with their names on them,” she added. “And when they open their gifts and see that Santa made some of their wishes come true, they experience the true magic of the holiday season. All children, everywhere, should experience that magic and feel the joy and hope that come with it.”
This level of personalization is challenging given the massive scope of the project, but CRYP staff members, donors, and an army of volunteers who return year after year to help — some from as far away as Europe — are determined to deliver. That means working around the clock in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, but Garreau said it’s worth the extra effort.
“For three decades, our children and families have relied on us to be here for them,” she observed, “and it’s important that they know we always will be here. Working together, we can give our children one day to just be kids. And, we can let them know how treasured they really are. When they’re small, they understand that Santa loves them; when they grow up, they see the magnitude of what happens here, and they realize they are loved, period. It’s so important.”
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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.