The final numbers are officially in. The Cheyenne River Youth Project reported today that its 2023 Wo Otúh’an Wi (Moon of Giving Away Presents) Toy Drive served 1,100 children and more than 250 families on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

This is no simple task. These children reside in 20 rural communities scattered across the remote, 2.8-million-acre reservation, which is the size of the state of Connecticut — and in CRYP’s deeply personal toy drive, each of those children received multiple packages chosen specifically for them, filled with fulfilled holiday wishes and warm winter clothing. 

During the week of the winter solstice and Christmas holidays, staff and volunteers distributed boxes overflowing with gifts to local families at the CRYP campus. They also donned Santa-and-elves costumes and made several personal deliveries to homes in the city of Eagle Butte, bringing a little extra joy and magic to community members of all ages.

“We couldn’t do this without our partners, donors, and volunteers,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s chief executive officer. “Relationships like these have been vital to our Native-led, grassroots organization since we opened our doors in 1988.” 

The volunteers came first. During the first 12 years of its life, CRYP was a 100-percent volunteer-run youth project, serving the community’s children in a former Main Street bar in Eagle Butte. 

These volunteers comprised members of the local community as well as long-term volunteers from across the country and overseas. After experiencing the work and the heart-centered mission firsthand, those long-term volunteers returned home and became CRYP ambassadors in their own communities, and CRYP’s reputation grew.

“As time went on, CRYP became well-known beyond South Dakota and even the Great Plains,” Garreau said. “That allowed us to build relationships with regional and even national partner organizations. And with their support, we evolved from a one-room youth center in a defunct bar to a 5-acre campus with youth and teen centers, organic garden, public art park, social enterprises, teen internships and so much more.” 

Some of those former volunteers helped connect CRYP with vital partners and funding. Others formed their own local networks that could continue to support the youth project during specific programs — like the toy drive.

“We started the toy drive in 1990 as a way to manage and distribute the in-kind donations we were accumulating,” Garreau said. “We made it a little different from the many other toy drives out there, in the sense that each package would be addressed to a specific child and contain a particular gift they wished to receive. It was grounded in Lakota values, which resonated with our community.

“Before we knew it, we were routinely serving more than 1,000 children each year,” she continued. “That would be impossible for a small nonprofit like ours if we didn’t have this incredible level of support, which is essentially a nationwide movement to lift up our children, our families, and our Lakota communities.” 

In fact, the success of each toy drive is a direct reflection of the strength of the youth project’s relationships. This year’s supporters included American Bank and Trust in Pierre, South Dakota; Block (Square); the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s ABC Commission and Indian Child Welfare program; Columbia Sportswear; Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado; First Financial Bank in Dupree, South Dakota; the “Friends of CRYP” volunteer group from the University of Missouri – St. Louis; Gordon & Reese’s Denver office; Lennar Custom Homes; Native Hope; Oahe Federal Credit Union in Pierre, South Dakota; Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP (Native Law Group); Rapid City Woodworkers Association; Cheyenne River Lakota comedian, actor, podcaster and writer Jana Schmieding; the Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation; and hundreds of individual donors worldwide.

“We are deeply grateful to each and every person who has pitched in to help us as we seek to build a future in which our young people will thrive,” Garreau said. “Whether you’re contributing funds, resources, opportunities, or simply your time, you are making a real difference in the lives of our children. That has tremendous power, because they are our future leaders and culture bearers.” 

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 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.