The Cheyenne River Youth Project’s annual Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive is now under way, and the nonprofit organization is reaching out to hundreds of families to ensure that their children’s holiday wishes come true.
Although the long-running toy drive has become a massive, coast-to-coast initiative, it all begins with this outreach in 20 communities across the 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north-central South Dakota. Heads of households renew their memberships in CRYP’s Family Services program, and when they do, they receive a Wo Otúh’an Wi Wish List for each child in the household.
Wo Otúh’an Wi means “Moon of Giving Away Presents” in the Lakota language. According to Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, traditional Lakota values lie at the heart of this annual initiative, which coincides with both winter solstice and the Judeo-Christian holiday season.
“When we give our children gifts, we are giving them — and their families — the hope and promise of wishes fulfilled,” Garreau explained. “Wo Otúh’an Wi is grounded in our Lakota values of generosity and caring for others. It recognizes the significance of the winter solstice and this time of the dark, cold moons. And it’s a vital part of living Wólakȟota, our people’s sacred way of life.”
The CRYP Family Services Membership Renewal Drive runs until Nov. 1. Staff are requesting that families return their children’s wish lists by that date, so they have time to coordinate with donors and volunteers to ensure those wishes are fulfilled during the week of the winter solstice.
“The kids’ wish lists are so heartfelt, and each one is unique to its creator,” Garreau said. “Every year, our goal is to give each child three or four special gifts from their lists, and we also provide much-needed winter clothing and shoes.”
Last year, with the support of its many partners and volunteers nationwide, CRYP was once again able to bring holiday joy to more than 1,500 children. Garreau said she hopes they can serve the same number, if not more, this winter.
“The earlier our families return their children’s wish lists to us, the earlier we can get to work on fulfilling those specific and deeply personal holiday wishes,” she said. “It’s an enormous project for us at CRYP, but our staff works around the clock to make sure it all comes together. We love our kids, our families and our community, and this program is dear to all of our hearts.”
Garreau recommended that local families stop by the CRYP offices at Čhokáta Wičhóni (Center of Life) in Eagle Butte at their earliest convenience. They’ll be able to secure their Family Services memberships for the new year, and then work with their children to fill out and return the wish lists right away.
A CRYP Family Services membership covers an entire household for a year. It ensures access to school supplies, winter clothing, shoes, household and baby items, food items — and the Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive.
“We’ve always believed that one of the best ways to support our kids is to support their families,” Garreau said. “We want to make life just a little bit easier for parents, guardians, and caregivers. And, in the process, we want to let our kids know how precious and deeply loved they are.”
In the weeks to come, CRYP will provide detailed information on its website and its social media platforms regarding how prospective donors, partner organizations, and even volunteers can help. As Garreau noted, it’s a team effort.
“We couldn’t do what we do without our network of supporters across the country, and even around the world,” she said. “Since we started the toy drive in 1990, it has become a nationwide movement to lift up our community. Words cannot express how humbled and grateful we feel.”
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.