|Shandiin Herrera of Oljato, Utah, with Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief.
By Cassandra Begay
June 8, 2020
TSIIZIZII, DINÉTAH (LEUPP, NAVAJO NATION) — The Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund and Effort (Relief Fund) marks its third month of operations as the Navajo Nation remains a hotspot of COVID-19. The Navajo Nation currently has 5,808 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 269 who have passed on in just three months as curfews and restrictions on businesses are lifted throughout the US.
“Our all-volunteer leadership team remains steadfast and committed to diligently protecting the wellbeing and health of vulnerable Navajo and Hopi community members during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Relief Fund founder Ethel Branch.
“That this effort has grown from a small crowdfunding campaign with a handful of volunteers shopping, sanitizing and making deliveries, to a massive region-wide effort with international attention in just twelve weeks has been incredibly remarkable and humbling. We are blessed and grateful for the amount of contributions and people who have stepped up to volunteer. Even though many are eager to return to their normal routines, we must continue to be vigilant as this crisis is not over, it truly is up to all of us to find ways to work together to stop the spread.” Branch said.
Starting on March 15th, 2020, a group of eleven Navajo and Hopi women have been able to mobilize what has now become the largest all-volunteer indigenous mutual relief aid effort in the US and raised $4.7 million. To this day, the Relief Fund has served over 7,500 households (averaging 4 people per household) in 81 of the 110 Navajo Chapters and 6 of the 12 Hopi Villages.
The Relief Fund is an initiative of Yee Ha’oolniidoo, a nonprofit formed under Utah law on April 1, 2020. Yee Ha’oolniidoo’s fiscal sponsor is the Rural Utah Project Educational Fund, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Governing Board of Yee Ha’oolniidoo is all Navajo women, and the Leadership Team for the Relief Fund is all Navajo and Hopi women.
“The primary objective of the Relief Fund is to flatten the curve on the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation,” states Branch. “We do this primarily through providing food and water to high risk, vulnerable, and COVID-positive community members so they are able to stay home and practice social distancing. We also provide PPE to community members and various high-contact groups, such as community health representatives, first responders, police officers, and medical staff. We also seek to raise public awareness on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Donations to the fund through GoFundMe are used to purchase bulk orders of healthy and nutritional foods including meats, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and carbs that are unloaded, sanitized, assembled and packaged into Kinship Care packages by a mass volunteer effort for Navajo & Hopi elders, immunocompromised and struggling families. Additionally, the Kinship Care packages include face masks, hand sanitizer, body soaps, and cleaning supplies. Each package costs on average $100 per box, this doesn't include transportation, rentals, and other necessary sanitizing supplies.
Example of two household member food care package. Photo by Theresa Hatathlie-Delmar.
“We put a lot of care and thought into healthy foods that many of our community members may not otherwise have access to,” said Vanessa Tulley, a volunteer and Leadership member with the Relief Fund. “ Our communities face a 50% unemployment rate and only have 13 grocery stores to cover a landmass the size of West Virginia, additionally approximately 33% of community members live without running water or electricity. This existing infrastructure crisis has exacerbated the public health crisis of COVID-19. We’re doing everything we can to safely ensure vulnerable Diné and Hopi families have necessary supplies to stay home during this pandemic.”
Theresa Hatathlie-Delmar photo Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Seamster Deb J Kizzia working on an order for Navajo Nation Police Dept.
The Relief Fund also has an initiative called “Navajo Seamstresses United COVID-19 Dooda” with over 300 seamstresses from throughout Navajo and Hopi as well as off-reservation communities in the four corners states, New York, and Georgia. This initiative has distributed 37,515 masks, hospital gowns, shoe covers, scrub caps, and face shields as of June 3, 2020.
In addition to hundreds of community-based volunteers, the Relief Fund coordinates supplies and distribution with a diverse range of partners including local grassroots relief groups and individuals, Navajo Nation Council Delegates, Navajo Nation Chapter House Officials, and Hopi community leadership.
The Navajo Nation Steamboat Chapter Commission President, Emerson Curley, said, “I want to really thank the people who have gathered this stuff for the Navajo and Hopi COVID19 Relief. The amount of food that was donated to our community and was brought out to us was outrageous. We couldn’t believe how much stuff that was brought out, different varieties of produce, different varieties of groceries. We say thank you from the bottom of our hearts from all of the community members. I wish you would have heard some of the expressions from the community members as we gave the food boxes out to them today. They were really appreciative.”
Meat prep photo by Theresa Hatathlie-Delmar
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Charlaine Tso said, “I am very thankful for the collaboration with the Navajo and Hopi COVID-19 Relief Effort. I implore my colleagues, and all within the leadership capacity to extend their helping hand and services to this organization to serve every family on the Navajo Nation. We are called into these positions by the will of the Creator. So, undoubtedly I know we all have the power and strength to bring our people through this pandemic. We have come to a huge understanding of needs and functionality, so I will do my best to make sure the Legislative Branch will remain in support, and to provide assistance when needed to the relief organization. Ahe’hee’!” Tso represents Aneth, Mexican Water, Red Mesa, Teec Nos Pos and Tólikan Chapters.
“Ahéhee.' You are first responders and should be deemed essential for the purposes of conducting your incredible and critical work," said Navajo Council Delegate Carl Slater. Slater represents Lukachukai, Rock Point, Round Rock, Tsaile/Wheatfields and Tsé Ch’izhí Chapters.
The Relief Fund provides regular updates on our social media accounts and GoFundMe page:
Donations can be made to Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief at https://gf.me/u/x3jc2q.