Williams group helps with food delivery to Navajo Nation as COVID cases at 2,757
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — “We were praying for food,” Helen Yazzie said. This resident of the Tuba City area watched in awe as generous donations of groceries, dog food, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and more were lowered from several vehicles.
“We weren’t sure how we were going to get food. We were just talking about it yesterday,” she said.
Yazzie was only one of numerous families benefiting from efforts by the Northern Arizona Animal Search and Rescue (NAASR) group, owned by Teresa Taggert.
Williams resident Dusty Brinkworth joined the organization in October 2017 and this dynamic duo leads the volunteer organization on animal rescue missions, however, their focus changed upon learning about the impact COVID-19 has had on the Navajo reservation.
Recently, Brinkworth and Taggert discussed leading fundraising efforts to raise money for food and other supplies to assist Navajo families in need, and came upon the idea of posting a call for donations on a Facebook community page. They were able to raise more than $7,000 for emergency assistance. This led to several women shopping online and in stores in several towns to purchase meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, flour, baking powder, rice and beans as well as cleaning and sanitary supplies and water. The animals on the Nation were not forgotten — dog and cat food was also purchased.
On April 28, Brinkworth was joined by a couple of friends at Grand Canyon Brewery, which loaned the use of their facility to store perishable food items. As the truck was quickly packed, Patty Aiken of the Central Arizona Animal Search and Rescue out of Rim Rock pulled into the parking lot and the crew began to stuff her hatchback vehicle as well.
The crew then headed to Flagstaff’s Silver Saddle store, where several other vehicles gathered, all loaded with supplies. Cameron Bonito and Melissa Waltaire of the Coconino Humane Society were there to help transport food, as well as Eileen Taggart of the Taggart Team, a REMAX Fine Properties realtor. After a quick strategy meeting, the convoy was on the road, heading up Highway 89 to their first stop at Bodaway-Gap and the Tsinaabaa Ha’Bitiin elementary school.
The school has been providing breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday for several weeks now, and were very grateful to receive supplies from the women.
“This has impacted the entire reservation,” said Jane Homer, from Cameron, who works at the school. “It’s something we can’t see, and it’s not like the hantavirus.”
Hantavirus has been a scourge on the reservation for many years. It is passed on to humans through the urine and feces of deer mice, and though it too is airborne and often fatal, residents can prevent the infection through careful cleaning and sanitation. Efforts to prevent COVID-19 are not as easily tracked. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has sent a clear message of social distancing to his people, asking them to stay home if possible. If one leaves his or her home, masks are now mandatory on the reservation and a curfew is in place.
Homer expressed her gratitude for the emergency assistance, which will be shared with families in need, as well as in the school kitchen for the “Grab and Go” meals.
“This is such a surprise; we are really thankful for getting the help for our community,” she said. “This is wonderful for the kids.”
The animal rescue crew then headed to the “first windmill” away from the school to meet individuals who were taking care of several multi-family, multi-generational home sites. The age range was from toddlers to a 93-year-old grandmother.
Coleen Curley was just one who picked up a load of supplies, which she will share with others in her area.
“I have five people living in my home,” Curley said. “There is my daughter, my son, grandchildren and me. I also provide home care for several elderly women. I help them with food, dog food and cat food. I help people who live by White Mountain. We are so grateful for this help.”
The convoy then drove past the famous dinosaur tracks located at Moenavi, and out into the bright green oasis dotting the base of the mesa upon which Tuba City sits on.
Helen Yazzie resides in Tuba City and she and her large family were all grateful for the unexpected visit.
“We don’t go anywhere because we are afraid of it (COVID-19). We have been staying close to the house for two months,” she said. “We want to say thank you. Thank you for the food and supplies.”
Yazzie referred her brother, Philip Multine, for assistance.
“He will probably tell you he doesn’t need anything, but he does. Don’t let him talk you out of it,” Yazzie said.
Multine lives in a small trailer underneath shade trees, next to a pond. He once worked with the Indian Youth Advocacy Project of the Urban Indian Law Project at the Phoenix Indian Center in Phoenix, and is the co-author and illustrator of the handbook, “Your Rights: A Handbook for Native American Youth in Arizona.” He is also a Vietnam veteran.
Like others visited, Multine enjoyed some company. He surrendered one of four kittens to be rehomed back in Flagstaff, and then traded Brinkworth another kitten for a bottle of hot sauce.
“Good trade,” Multine laughed. He also gifted a copy of his handbook.
Multine’s trailer is without electricity or running water, so the cases of canned chicken and Spam and fresh fruits and vegetables were very welcome.
“I tried to go to the store last week, but I didn’t have a mask so they wouldn’t let me in,” he said.
He was happy to receive several hand-sewn masks and after accepting a diet root beer, Multine waved goodbye as he continued to put away his supplies.
The caravan then brought the final third of supplies to the Navajo Nation Emergency Medical Service strike team situated at the Tuba City Fair Grounds. The crew has been actively sorting and distributing donated food and water. The members of the strike team quickly assisted in downloading supplies into an empty room, which had been completely full only the day before.
“We are basically like an incident command center,” Bobbie Yazzie explained. “People reach out to us, high risk folks, or those who have COVID-19. They call Window Rock (Navajo Health), looking for assistance, and they let us know who needs help.”
People in need can then pick up necessary supplies.
The crew then moved on to a young family who had contacted NAASR for assistance. The team had reserved supplies for her. She was waiting in the parking lot of a Tuba City fast food restaurant. As group members loaded the small car with supplies, the young mother walked over to me and handed her grandmother’s death certificate. She had recently passed away from COVID-19.
Future deliveries are being funded and planned. Donations can be made at www.facebook.com/NorthernArizonaAnimalSandR.org.