Christmas is just six weeks away, which means the Cheyenne River Youth Project is working hard to make sure Santa Claus will bring holiday cheer to more than 1,500 children on South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Lakota Nation. Staff members putting together the annual Santa’s Workshop at Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) in Eagle Butte, and donors across the country are doing their part as well.

For example, large partner groups along Colorado’s Front Range and in St. Louis, Missouri, are busily gathering gifts from coworkers, neighbors, family and friends who adopted “Dear Santa” letters. In early December, they’ll load rental trucks christened Rudolph I and II and send them across the wintery prairie to Cokata Wiconi.

There, staff and volunteers will make sure all the gifts are organized by family and by community, ready for festive pre-holiday pickups. They’ll also guarantee that unadopted letters are fulfilled, so that every child who wrote a “Dear Santa” letter will have his or her Christmas wishes come true.

“We make sure each child receives four gifts from his or her ‘Dear Santa’ letter, as well as much-needed clothing and shoes,” says Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We do our best to give them ‘something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read!’

“Our donors across the country and our team here on Cheyenne River select just the right items for each child and prepare beautifully wrapped, personalized packages for that child,” she adds. “Along the way, they bring Christmas magic to life. It’s really a miracle, what happens here every year, and we couldn’t do it without so many people lifting us up—and spreading hope and joy where it is most needed.”

On the Cheyenne River reservation, dedicated donors and volunteers quite literally make Christmas happen. One of those volunteers is Laura Copeland, who travels from her California home each holiday season to work with CRYP.

“The unemployment rate hovers around 75 percent on Cheyenne River, so the Christmas season hits especially hard here,” she says. “Parents must often choose: gifts for their children, or food on the table? Keep the electricity turned on, or buy their toddler a warm coat that fits?” 

Since CRYP started the Christmas Toy Drive in 1990, it has become a beacon of hope—not only for the children, and the care-givers for whom it eases the burden during the holiday season, but also for the volunteers who make the long journey to Cheyenne River each December, and the community members who donate their time to help prepare and wrap gifts. The program has essentially created a nationwide movement, one that inspires everyone it touches.

“As volunteers, we walk laps around the makeshift shopping aisles in Cokata Wiconi’s gymnasium, finding the perfect gifts and winter clothing for kids who might otherwise get nothing,” Copeland says. “It is like Santa’s Workshop.”

If you would like to brighten a child’s Christmas morning during this holiday season, please click here for detailed information about how you can help. (You also can buy or sell tickets in our annual Star Quilt Raffle, which benefits the Christmas Toy Drive!) Every contribution directly supports CRYP’s toy drive efforts and makes a real difference in the lives of Cheyenne River’s children.

To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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.