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Running Strong provides holiday joy to hundreds of children throughout Indian Country

This Christmas, we are spreading holiday joy throughout Indian Country including on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where our field office, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home) and our partner, the Oyate Teca Project, will be distributing 2,400 toys to boys and girls ensuring that “Santa” doesn’t pass them by.

At Tipi Waste, a semi-tractor trailer will arrive filled with toys for children and youth of all ages which our field coordinator, Dave Lone Elk, and his family members and volunteers will start sorting and labeling by gender and age groups.

Then, volunteer “Santas” from eight of the nine districts on the vast reservation will start arriving to fill pickup trucks and trailers with toys for distribution in their communities a few days before Christmas.

With that done, it becomes time for Dave’s and the Lone Elks’ favorite day of the year where nearby parents with their kids in tow will come to Tipi Waste (remaining in their vehicles this year due to continuing COVID-19 safety precautions) and select the toys they want from a wide array of toys such as dolls, sports equipment, games and much, much more!

Not far from Tipi Waste, the Oyate Teca Project will also be distributing toys to the families and children they serve.

Executive director Rose Fraser is busy planning creating a store-like setting featuring unwrapped, age and gender-appropriate gifts for the children to choose from.

“For us, it just made sense,” says Rose, “the kiddos are able to select the gift they want.”

Running Strong also provides the Oyate Teca Project with grant funding to supplement the toys shipped to Pine Ridge to “add to the inventory with more baby dolls, Barbie dolls, cars and trucks” as well as “teen and adult gifts because these are the age groups which are often forgotten about,” says Rose, ensuring that none of the expected 800 children and youth she is expecting will go home empty handed.

Rose notes that the population on the reservation is 95 percent Oglala Lakota the majority of who live below the national poverty income guidelines.

“We never turn anyone away,” she says. “It is our belief that if they show up at our events it is because they are in need of our services.

“We want to recreate some of our historical traditions of helping one another without any stipulations,” she adds. “Help where you can…everyone needs help once in a while and if our center is where they can get help, then we are happy to help.

“We try to provide a little Christmas happiness for everyone who needs it.”

In addition, Running Strong is supporting holiday events in Indian Country including:

In Sallisaw, Oklahoma, our partner the Brushy Cherokee Action Association will be hosting a “Lil Red Truck – A Vintage Christmas With Santa” event where families will arrive and drive through or walk up to “Candy Cane Lane” and right in to “Santa’s Headquarters” at the “North Pole,” says Brushy Cherokee treasurer Robin Hickman, who is expecting to serve 200 families.

“Inside will be photos with Santa with a photographer, Santa will also be giving each child a small gift, and the elves’ workshop where kids can see where they make toys,” she told us. “Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen is where visitors can find baked cookies and hot chocolate, and last but not least, is Reindeer Row is where kids will be given “reindeer food” as well as a bag of carrots to put out on Christmas Eve!”

In Chinle, Arizona, our partner, Today We Follow – Tomorrow We Lead, will be operating a traveling “Santa Sleigh” complete with “Santa” and his elves to distribute Christmas gifts, bags of candy, hot chocolate and popcorn balls to 100 families in the communities of Blue Gap, Low Mountain, Whippoorwell, Cottonwood, Burnt Corn and Old Tree, reports program director Anita Begay.

“The elders will receive a gift of a blanket, house slippers, sweaters and heating wood (for those who have a wood-burning stove),” says Anita.

“Giving Christmas gifts to the children, elderly and parents give the people in the surrounding communities the feeling that they are not forgotten during the holidays, giving them hope that there are brighter days ahead.”

In Sioux City, Iowa, Indian Youth of America is using grant funding from Running Strong to host its 41st Annual Christmas Giveaway which will serve 70 families, says director Patricia Gordon.

“We will be distributing goodie sacks filled with fruit, candy, cookies, popcorn etc. and Christmas gifts to each child and a Christmas family pack to the parents,” she told us. “We will observe social distancing and mask wearing, when distributing the gifts and goodie bags. We are making plans to accommodate 350 Indian children and family members.

“Our Christmas event touches the lives of hundreds of Indian children and families from the Siouxland area, which includes portions of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. The children and families that attend the Christmas Giveaway represent the Santee and Yankton Sioux Tribes, Ponca Tribe, Winnebago Tribe, Omaha Nation as well as tribal members from 29 other Indian tribes that reside in the area.

“Our Christmas Giveaway will brighten the lives of Indian children and families by making sure they are not forgotten during the holiday season,” adds Patricia. “The holidays are tough for families struggling without sufficient income to cover their basic needs let alone the extra pressure of buying gifts for their children.

“The holiday season is a time for celebrating, sharing and reaching out to help others. In the true spirit of Christmas, we do just that with our annual Christmas Event.”

In Summit, South Dakota, Running Strong partner Summit Area Economic Growth will be conducting a Holiday Concert for school-aged children located in the Summit School gymnasium, according to program director Heath Heggelund.

“During the concert, students have an opportunity to showcase and perform for their family members, as well as members of the community,” says Heath. “At the conclusion of the Holiday Concert, the OST Program will have Santa and his elves handing out gifts to each class. This will set up the perfect scenario to capture pictures of our students’ excitement, as well as the community’s involvement as the children receive their gifts.

“We will have several families that will financially struggle this winter due to high gas prices and increased inflation rates,” he added. “With the possibility of providing $15 gifts for students will provide infinite smiles for children and hopefully provide hope and lighten the financial burden for families.”

And in Wakpala, South Dakota, former Running Strong Dreamstarter Samantha Yellow Fat is organizing a Christmas gift distribution for students in the Smee School District thanks to grant funding from Running Strong which will provide toys to nearly 200 children.

“I’ve already got students asking if we are going to be doing Christmas presents again this year,” Samantha reported. “They remark on how their parents, grandparents or guardians cannot afford certain things – especially toys or comfort items that can be too expensive.”

And to the supporters of Running Strong, Samantha says, “You may not feel or see your impact, but our kids do! Thank you!”


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