Throughout the year, Running Strong distributes the necessities of a healthy life – backpacks filled with school supplies to help kids excel in school, winter coats and boots to keep kids warm during the winter, and dental kits to improve oral health.
Several years ago, we decided expand on what we already do and help bring Christmas cheer to Native communities by distributing toys during the holidays.
Today, “Toys for Tribes” remains a vital part of our Inkind program – along with ensuring that hundreds of families have a turkey on the table and all the trimmings that go with a holiday meal.
And thanks to our supporters, these are just a few of the upcoming Christmas events that they are guaranteeing to put smiles on the faces of hundreds of Native children throughout Indian Country:
Brushy Cherokee Action Association
At the Brushy Cherokee Action Association in Sallisaw, Oklahoma preparations are being made for a festive holiday celebration for 150 families to include a big Christmas dinner, holiday music and a present for every child.
“The Brushy community is poverty-stricken and with this grant we hope to help families with a healthy meal, a gift and the memory of having special holidays,” says president Gary Bolin, adding that many of these children come from large families whose parents are simply not able to provide gifts for their children.
“This program helps preserve our Native children’s interest in family activities and encourages them to accept the best of the non-Native culture,” he explained.
And it goes much beyond the simple joy of receiving a present on Christmas as children who have attended previous holiday programs gain an understanding of the truism that it’s better to give than receive.
“It taught them to want to give back and help others,” said Gary, adding that the holiday event will help the children achieve their goal of giving back and becoming volunteers “and grow as the community grows.”
And the overarching accomplishment of a seemingly simple holiday party and a gift or two from Santa?
“To reach the goal of letting families in our community know that they are important and that they matter,” Gary told us. “That each child knows they are special to learn what being part of a community really feels like, and its true meaning.”
Through the generosity of our supporters, we are able to do that and more.
“We are so grateful for all the opportunities provided to us by Running Strong for American Indian Youth®. Your overwhelming assistance to our community has been so inspirational to all of us, and it has made us a much more significant influence within our community, and with the Cherokee Nation.”
Summit Youth Holiday Gift Project
In Summit, South Dakota, the Summit Youth Holiday Gift Project will provide nearly 200 Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate children on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation with a gift and will supply each classroom in the Summit School District with holiday goodies to enjoy together.
“Many of our families cannot afford to purchase gifts for their children around the holidays,” said Becky Hubsch, the school district’s business manager and a former Running Strong Dreamstarter mentor. “This leaves many children left out, and can set a negative tone in development for the upcoming year.”
But the supporters of Running Strong are making a big difference in the lives of Lake Traverse children, says Becky.
“The past three years with the help of Running Strong for American Indian Youth® we were able to provide a gift for every child!” she told us. “This continues to be an amazing thing to witness – all the children so happy and thankful for what they received.
“Our children in our community are our biggest assets that we should be investing in,” she continued. “Even though Running Strong for American Indian Youth is thousands of miles away, you still care whole-heartedly for our children back here in South Dakota.
“You help show love, acknowledgement, and provide joy for those who might not receive those basic needs. Thank you for being a great partner with our community and investing in our children!”
Indian Youth of America
In Sioux City, Iowa, Indian Youth of America will be hosting its 38th annual Christmas Party on Dec. 15 with a private showing of holiday movie “The Grinch” for more than 300 Santee Sioux, Yankton Sioux, Ponca, Winnebago, Omaha [children] plus Native children of other tribes residing in the Siouxland area of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.
In addition to the showing, the party held at a local movie theater will include a nice gift and “goodie” sack for each child, drawing for door prizes and, of course, a visit from Santa.
“Every year we have an excellent turnout and this year we are making plans to accommodate 350 Indian children and family members,” said executive director Patricia Trudell Gordon, who started the parties 37 years ago.
“For Indian families, particularly those with several children, the added expense of the holiday season becomes a stressful and difficult time,” she said. ”Parents struggling to make ends meet have to choose between buying Christmas gifts for their children or putting food on the table and a roof over their head.
“Indian Youth of America’s Christmas Party helps to alleviate some of this stress by making sure Indian children are not forgotten during the holiday season.”
And again, it is our supporters who help make this happen year after year.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting the important work we do for Indian children.
Every year I worry about where the support will come from for another Christmas Party, which the Indian children and families are looking forward to. The holiday season is a time for celebrating, sharing, reaching out to help others and making Christmas a happier time for Indian children.
“You help us to do this.”
Christmas Winter Wonderland
In the communities of Blue Gap, Burnt Corn, Cotton Wood, Low Mountain, Many Farms, Rough Rock, Pinon, Old Tree and Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation in Chinle, Arizona, Anita Begay, president of Today We Follow – Tomorrow We Lead, is busy planning for their Christmas Winter Wonderland for 400 children from 300 families.
“The program helps the children and families that are in need,” says Anita. “There are children and families that go without every year. Mothers and fathers who can’t give to their children a warm coat, warm winter shoes and a gift on Christmas Day. With the help of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, we can deliver these needed items to children.”
The goal of the Christmas party is “to make a child happy and full of happiness knowing that someone cares – knowing that Running Strong cares for the youth,” she said.
“Christmas is when the children are looking forward to a gift left by Santa. With the help of Running Strong, the program is able to give the children a Christmas gift from Santa – the Running Strong Santa.”
Oyate Teca Project and Tipi Waste on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
And then of course, there’s the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where hundreds of families will receive toys for their children either through our affiliate there, the Oyate Teca Project, or from our Oglala Lakota staff at our Tipi Waste field office.
Come Christmas morning, hundreds of children on the reservation will wake up bright and early with presents under the tree just for them.
Among them will be 7-year-old Yvonne who told Santa “I have been very good this year,” and adding, “I hope I don’t get on the naughty list.” She is hoping on getting what she asked for – My Little Ponies, a unicorn, Barbies, and, of course, “food for my Barbies.”
And Luke told Santa that “I’ve been very good,” but admitted, “but sometimes my sister and brother drive me crazy.” Luke is hoping for a remote-controlled car and “some Batman toys” for Christmas.
Oyate Teca executive director and Running Strong Field Coordinator Rose Fraser told us she received more than 180 letters to Santa from children who participate in programs at its community center, and that last year’s Christmas celebration was attended by more than 660 children and their parents.
To prepare for this year’s party, to be held on December 18, Rose and staff and volunteers spent Black Friday out in the stores to get hundreds of presents – not for their families and friends, of course – but for the hundreds of children who are counting on their “Running Strong Santa.”
And at Tipi Waste, field coordinator Dave Lone Elk is preparing for another truckload of toys to be delivered to the warehouse in early-December recalling last year’s distribution where “plenty of children received plenty of happiness from the Christmas toys, as well as stayed warm with our Running Strong winter coats and snow boots!”
“My children are really happy for the presents,” reported Morris following last year’s distribution. “And I for one am thankful that ‘Santa Claus’ didn’t forget my children this year!”
And as for Dave himself, unloading truckloads of toys for kids throughout the reservation never gets old.
“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing because it is greatly appreciated…and you can most definitely see it in the children’s faces.”