Starting Monday, Nov. 23, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe enacted a COVID-19 Shelter in Place order for the city of Eagle Butte, South Dakota, due to rising cases and hospitalizations. The Cheyenne River Youth Project also closed its buildings to the public for the duration; the tribe anticipates lifting this lockdown on Wednesday, Dec. 2.
In preparation, CRYP staff worked hard last week to conduct three major curbside distributions for the Cheyenne River community in just three days. First, in collaboration with Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA) and with support from Pierre, South Dakota-based Rilings Produce, the nonprofit youth organization distributed 175 free boxes of fresh, nutritious produce on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Next, in partnership with the CRST Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) office, CRYP staff members served 175 free, home-cooked meals in a drive-thru version of the youth project’s eagerly anticipated “Thanks for Kids” dinner on Thursday, Nov. 19. The meals included turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, corn, pies, and refreshments.
“I love putting together these recipes and helping to feed my community,” said Khalid Garreau, the CRYP youth programs assistant responsible for this year’s menu. “It means so much to me that I can do my part to carry on this important tradition, especially this year.”
“We’re so happy we could provide these meals to our community,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We prefer not to commemorate this particular colonized holiday. Instead, we choose to celebrate our Lakota Nation’s most precious treasures — our children. They are our future leaders and culture bearers, and they are our greatest hope. While we cannot gather for this celebration in 2020, we still can take care of each other by sharing this meal.”
Finally, on Friday, Nov. 20, CRYP and PWNA joined together to distribute 153 free turkey boxes for the community. Each box included a turkey, turkey gravy, stuffing, corn, cake mix, chips, drinks, lotion, lip balm, healing salve, hygiene kit, dental kit, and cleaning kit.
Then it was time to shut down Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) to the public, although key staff members will be on site to complete essential services throughout the coming week.
The team is encouraging local families to take time during this lockdown to renew their Family Services applications online. According to Dawnee LeBeau, deputy director, families also may submit “Dear Santa” letters online, ensuring that all children in their households may participate in this year’s Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive.
“This fall, we launched a new online system that allows our families to complete all of this paperwork through the CRYP website,” LeBeau explained. “It’s 100-percent hands-off, to keep everyone safe.”
Families who wish to participate in this year’s Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive must renew their Family Services memberships online and submit “Dear Santa” letters through the online system by Monday, Nov. 30. Due to the challenges presented by the pandemic, CRYP cannot guarantee donors for individual letters after this week.
CRYP also extended its discounted membership price. Families now can purchase a Family Services membership for just $25, which covers all members of the household for a full year and guarantees access to all distributions.
The youth project’s three distributions last week follow a busy September and October, during which CRYP was able to provide 244 and 267 families with fresh produce, respectively. Also this fall, the staff served more than 150 meals through its 8th annual Harvest Festival dinner, and it made sure that 572 children from 211 families had all the school supplies they needed for the 2020-21 school year.
“We’re grateful to the United Missionary Corporation, the Patrick Church family, and countless individual donors across the country who really stepped up to help us take care of our kids this year,” LeBeau said. “We’ve also found that Family Services has taken on a new importance in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and we can help our kids get through this by making life just a little bit easier for their families and care-givers.
“We extend a heartfelt philámayeye to PWNA and ICWA, who have been vital partners in these distributions, and in reimagining our community meals,” she continued. “We couldn’t have done this without you. We’re also thankful to Rilings Produce for joining with us this fall.”
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs — including Wo Otúh’an Wi and Family Services — and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@lakotayouth and @waniyetuwowapi).
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.