A stream of vehicles rolled into the Unitarian Universalist Church in Durango on Saturday, loaded with supplies for Navajo and Hopi tribal members in need.
The church partnered with Toyei Industries Inc., a Navajo Nation nonprofit, to coordinate the supply drive. The nation, which spans 27,000 square miles, has fought one of the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States with limited resources and access to health care.
“We know Durango is an extraordinarily generous community – as you can see by all the people coming out,” said Bonnie Miller, a coordinator for the church’s social justice efforts, referring to the line of vehicles waiting to drop off goods.
Drivers arrived at the church parking lot with bags of canned and fresh food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, face masks and other supplies bagged and ready to grab in their trunks and backseats. Volunteers wearing masks and gloves transferred the donations to a storage room. Within the first hour, the room had filled substantially.
The church’s supply drive began after Marsha Porter-Norton, a volunteer who is running for La Plata County commissioner, connected them with Toyei Industries. Toyei is a Navajo Nation entity established in 1976 that provides employment and training services for disabled Navajo tribal members.
Two people from Toyei were coming to Durango on a weekly basis to gather supplies, particularly for Gallup, New Mexico, and Chinle, Arizona, where the outbreaks have been severe, Miller said.
As the nation has responded with shutdown orders and other restrictions, resource access has been one challenge for tribal members, particularly elders. In some cases, people can’t leave their home to get food and supplies because of the pandemic or other causes. A third do not have running water or electricity, according to news reports.
Diné Bikéyah, or Navajoland, is larger than 10 of the 50 states in America, but it has only about 13 grocery stores.
“If we are having a hard time getting stuff at City Market and Albertsons, you can imagine what it’s like to drive 200 miles to a very small grocery store,” Porter-Norton said.
The church volunteers said they wanted to follow Toyei Industries’ lead to provide help. While they don’t have a specific plan for another drive, they are open to further action. On Sunday, they collected donations for the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.
“Really, the gift is for the giver to know that you helped to make a difference,” Miller said.