The Cheyenne River Youth Project announced today that it has officially launched its Wo Otúhan Wi (Moon of Giving Away Presents) Toy Drive for the 2021 holiday season. Next month, the nonprofit youth organization will deliver thousands of personalized gifts to approximately 1,500 children in 20 communities scattered across the 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, which is the size of Connecticut.
Members of CRYP’s Family Services program have already turned in their children’s “Dear Santa” letters, and partners across the country are busy adopting letters and shopping for each individual child. Once again, these supporters are joining the youth project in a nationwide movement to bring about what is, essentially, a holiday miracle.
“We’ve been doing this toy drive for 30 years, and I’m still in awe of our supporters’ willingness to contribute and their dedication to Cheyenne River’s children,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It’s both honoring and humbling, especially after enduring the Covid-19 pandemic. These last 19 months have been so challenging for everyone, yet our partners, volunteers, and friends are still here for us. And for our kids.”
While the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is rich in its vibrant Lakota culture, traditions, and life ways, the two counties in which it makes its home remain lacking in economic resources. More than half of its children under the age of 18 are growing up in households that fall below the poverty line. Life in these remote Great Plains communities has always been challenging, but it’s even harder these days, with the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt daily life.
“We’re now serving our second generation of children here at CRYP, and they rely on us to be here for them, especially during the hard times,” Garreau said. “One of our teens recently said to me that CRYP is her second home. These kids know we always keep our promises, and they look to us for positive energy, joy, and magic, which should be part of every childhood.
“They also look to us as role models when it comes to our Lakota values and life ways,” she continued. “At the heart of Wo Otúh’an Wi is the spirit of generosity, one of our most precious Lakota values. It’s our responsibility to these children, and to the seventh generation, to embody this value and bring it to life in a meaningful way.”
CRYP is currently seeking organizational partners and individual supporters around the country to help fulfill the many hundreds of “Dear Santa” letters that are flooding into CRYP headquarters. As families renew their memberships in the youth project’s long-running Family Services program, their children complete deeply personal and heartfelt letters to Santa, in which they share what they most hope to receive for Christmas; they also ask for much-needed winter clothing and shoes, and often for items to make life easier for family members as well.
Each year, CRYP receives approximately 1,500 “Dear Santa” letters. Although the numbers are impressive, the Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive isn’t about numbers. It’s about fulfilling precious childhood wishes that are unique to each individual child.
“When Christmas arrives, our kids see beautifully wrapped packages with their names on them,” Garreau said. “When they open their gifts and see that their wishes came true, they experience the true magic of the holiday season.”
This level of personalization is challenging given the massive scope of the project, but CRYP staff members, donors, and volunteers are determined to deliver. That means working around the clock in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, but Garreau said it’s worth it.
“When they’re small, they understand that Santa loves them,” she explained. “When they get older, that magic doesn’t go away, because they understand the magnitude of what happens here. They feel on a heart level that they are loved, treasured, and cared for.”
To support the Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive, visit www.lakotayouth.org/toy-drive. You’ll learn more about the many ways to help, which include adopting a “Dear Santa” letter, making purchases from our Amazon wish list, and even volunteering with CRYP this holiday season. Every contribution makes a real difference in the lives of Cheyenne River’s 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.