With the support of its many partners and volunteers nationwide, the Cheyenne River Youth Project was once again able to bring holiday joy to more than 1,500 children in its annual Wo Otúh’an Wi (Moon of Giving Away Presents) Toy Drive in December. The children, who reside in 20 communities scattered across the 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, each received four gifts from their unique, heartfelt “Dear Santa” letters as well as winter clothing.

According to Jerica Widow, CRYP’s youth programs director, this was no small feat. While the toy drive is always a massive undertaking, the Covid pandemic wreaked havoc with the grassroots, Native-led nonprofit organization’s carefully designed processes in 2020 and 2021.

“Like so many other organizations, we had to quickly adapt to the realities of pandemic life,” Widow said. “Instead of welcoming our usual army of long-term and community volunteers through our doors, for example, we had to rely on our own small full-time staff. Together, the six of us developed and fine-tuned a new routine so we could meet the needs of hundreds of families.

“Our staff pushed through the challenges with so much heart, and we were able to deliver all the gifts to our youth,” she continued. “I’m so proud of each and every one of them, for their hard work and for the flawless processes they helped to build and execute. We also wish to say Wópila Táŋka Ečíčiyepi (with great gratitude) to our many partners, because none of this would have been possible without you.”

Vital financial support came from Lennar Custom Homes, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Patagonia, Columbia Sportswear and the Roundhouse Foundation, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Indian Child Welfare program, the Sparkjoy Foundation, the Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation, Partnership with Native Americans, Block (Square), the Black Hills Credit Union, and countless individual donors.

In addition, the Rapid City Woodworkers Association contributed their beautiful, handmade wooden toys to Cheyenne River’s children. And then there were the many generous people around the country who served as toy drive coordinators in their own communities.

“Every year, the Friends of CRYP group in St. Louis coordinates letter adoption locally, collects the toys, and loads a truck bound for Eagle Butte,” Widow explained. “Their counterparts in Colorado do the same: Fairview High School in Boulder, Lennar in Thornton, the American Indian College Fund in Denver, and Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP in Louisville.

“We’ve also built relationships with International Dream Achievers at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois, and with Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, New Jersey,” she added. “This project seems to resonate with school communities and their young people, which means the world to us. Kids are taking the initiative to reach out and lift up other kids.”

CRYP has conducted its annual toy drive for three decades, and the youth project is now serving its second generation of children.

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 is dedicated to giving our Lakota youth and families access to the culturally relevant, enriching, and enduring opportunities we need to build stronger, healthier communities and a more vibrant future together.