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Santa Claus Brings Christmas to 1,600 Cheyenne River Children

The Cheyenne River Youth Project and Santa Claus brought Christmas to more than 1,600 kids on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
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The Cheyenne River Youth Project’s 2015 Toy Drive brought Santa Claus to more than 1,600 children across South Dakota’s remote Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

Throughout fall, Cheyenne River’s children wrote 340 letters to Santa, asking for gifts not only for themselves, but for family members as well.

“During the past few years, we’ve set a goal of serving 1,500 children at Christmastime,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, in a press release. “We constantly strive to expand our reach and serve more children each year, since the need is so great on Cheyenne River. We’re stunned that we not only exceeded our goal this year, we exceeded it by more than 100 children.

“We simply couldn’t have done that without all of our dedicated partners, and our army of around-the-clock volunteers,” she continued. “It’s so much more than a seasonal toy drive. It’s a movement.”

Courtesy Cheyenne River Youth Project

The 2015 Christmas Toy Drive served more than 1,600 children on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

The non-profit’s annual Toy Drive is unique because every Christmas staff and volunteers make sure that every child who writes a letter to Santa gets three or four gifts from their letter, which means volunteers must sort and wrap thousands of presents. This year, more than 20 volunteers from California to New York, and as far away as England and Ireland, helped.

“Ever since we started the Christmas Toy Drive in 1990, we’ve been dedicated to keeping it personal,” Garreau said in the release. “We don’t just give gifts to ‘boy, age 3’ or ‘girl, age 8.’ We want to let the children know that they’re important, that they’re treasured, and that Santa knows who they are.”

The annual Christmas Toy Drive means as much to Cheyenne River’s parents as it does to the kids. The remote reservation comprises two of the poorest counties in the country, and unemployment hovers around 75 percent, leaving little room in family budgets for necessities, much less presents.

Courtesy Cheyenne River Youth Project

The 2015 Christmas Toy Drive served more than 1,600 children on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

“The weeks leading up to Christmas are hard around here,” Garreau said in the release. “We work long hours, and we certainly have moments where we worry we’re not going to be able to get everything done in time for Christmas Eve. But all that work is worth it when we see the children’s joy, and the relief and happiness in the eyes of their parents and family members.

“This really is what Christmas is all about,” she added. “It’s not just about toys. It’s about feeling cared for, and loved; and it’s about lifting up a community. It’s about hope.”

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, donations and financial contributions come into Eagle Butte, South Dakota, from around the country, and even the world. In December, trucks pulled into CRYP’s East Lincoln Street campus from Virginia, Missouri and Colorado, bearing the results of local toy drives spearheaded by Running Strong for American Indian Youth, the St. Louis Chapter of CRYP, and Colorado-based groups including Fairview High School in Boulder, students from CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, and Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLC in Louisville.

While Cheyenne River’s children may never know how many people came together so Santa could make it there on Christmas, more than 1,600 of them know they are loved.

Courtesy Cheyenne River Youth Project

The 2015 Christmas Toy Drive served more than 1,600 children on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

To learn more about CRYP, and to check out a video about the 2015 Christmas Toy Drive, visit LakotaYouth.org.