Seamstresses unite to fight COVID-19 on Navajo, Hopi reservations
TUBA CITY, Ariz. — Diné (Navajo) seamstresses have organized to fight COVID-19 with resourcefulness, creativity, and sewing machines, having created and distributed over 18,000 masks to date.
As confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation climbed to 5,348 positive cases with 246 deaths as of May 31, the Western Navajo Seamstresses COVID 19 Dooda and Eastern Navajo Seamstresses United COVID 19 Dooda have been rapidly sewing masks and other PPE for community members, first responders and healthcare providers.
The seamstresses are all-volunteer subsidiaries to the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund (Fund), and last week the fund began including masks with their food boxes.
So far, the Fund has served over 4,300 households in over 50 communities on Navajo Nation and in five of the 12 Hopi Villages.
Additionally, the group’s GoFundMe account for this effort has surpassed $3.7 million.
On March 23, Theresa Hatathlie-Delmar, who is from Coalmine Mesa on the Navajo Nation, was approached by relief fund founder Ethel Branch asking for her help in mobilizing a sewing group to make cloth masks to help the overall relief effort.
“Amid organizing and coordinating a response to the many assistance requests for food and basic essentials, it came to light there was a shortage of masks for hospital personnel,” said Hatathlie-Delmar, lead seamstress for the relief fund, and leader of the fund’s united seamstress effort. “A few days after the launch of our group, the requests for masks from hospitals and first responders came flooding in.
Every day since then our group has sewn and sent masks out.”
Formed as the Navajo Seamstresses United Covid-19 Dooda group, the group has grown to include western and eastern chapters. The western chapter, led by Hatathlie-Delmar, now has more than 500 members from the Navajo and Hopi Nations, southern Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah, Colorado, New York and Georgia, as well as from the Blackfeet, Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nations.
At first the group had little to no supplies due to material scarcity. However, they now have been receiving daily material donations from throughout the country.
“We have made and donated more than 18,000 masks so far,” said Hatathlie-Delmar, who is also the vice president of the Diné College Board of Regents.
Members have sent out packages of masks throughout the Navajo and Hopi reservations including elder care facilities, social services, clinics, hospital maintenance workers, security guards and custodians among others.
Recently a Navajo Nation agency contacted the group requesting 5,000 masks. An organization from Los Angeles, California is helping make this possible by shipping medical grade material for masks.
Seamstresses have also responded to a shortage of hospital gowns as confirmed COVID-19 cases continued to rise.
Currently, the Navajo Nation has reported more confirmed cases of COVID-19 per capita than any U.S. state.
“After consulting with various health and public safety employees, we were sent a pattern for the gowns but production has been slow due to the yardage required for the gowns and the availability of materials,” said Hatathlie-Delmar. “The gowns are sewn by ladies in Tuba City and for now, donations are being sent to Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation.”
On April 12, Hatathlie-Delmar along with Ramona Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation Women’s Commission, launched the Eastern Navajo Seamstresses United COVID 19 Dooda to expand the group’s reach across the entire Navajo Nation.
“This is a labor of love for our group members as almost every member personally knows someone who has fallen ill to COVID-19. Many of us also have lost someone we know to the virus,” said Hatathlie-Delmar. “Our united purpose is to meet the demand for our Nation’s need of masks and gowns to keep our people healthy and safe.”
Those interested in joining or learning more about the Western and Eastern Navajo Seamstresses United COVID-19 Dooda can contact the group through their Facebook pages.
Information provided by the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.