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Navajo, Hopi Families' COVID-19 Relief Fund Nears $1M

Volunteers unload boxes of water on the Navajo Nation as part of a grassroots food-distribution effort to help the 180,000 tribal members during the coronavirus pandemic. (Deidra Peaches)
Volunteers unload boxes of water on the Navajo Nation as part of a grassroots food-distribution effort to help the 180,000 tribal members during the coronavirus pandemic. (Deidra Peaches)
April 20, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A relief fund to help Navajo and Hopi families in the Navajo Nation cope with the coronavirus pandemic has raised more than $800,000 to date. The Navajo Nation has reported more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases, with the latest information showing 44 deaths.

Cassandra Begay is the communications lead for the fundraiser and said a grassroots effort to mobilize was necessary to avoid the red tape and bureaucracy that often afflicts tribal communities in times of crisis.

"The Navajo Nation alone sprawls over 1.7 million acres of land and we only have 13 grocery stores on that 1.7 million acres of land. We only have a handful of hospitals," Begay said.

She said there are only 170 hospital beds available on the reservation. Despite limited infrastructure, there are high numbers of elderly, diabetic, asthmatic and cancer-afflicted individuals living on the Navajo Nation, putting them at an elevated risk of requiring hospitalization for the disease.

She said to help tribal members abide by New Mexico's stay-at-home order and avoid traveling to grocery stores, volunteers have been distributing critical water supplies.

"There's uranium contamination of the aquifers and coal-mining contamination of the aquifers on the Navajo Nation," she said. "So a lot of communities are afraid to use the water or drink it, which makes it nearly impossible for them to be able to wash their hands."

Begay said so far access to almost $700,000 from the GoFundMe campaign has allowed the purchase of food and water, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to serve 930 families in almost 40 communities on the Navajo Nation, four villages on Hopi, and 342 families in Utah.

"I really think that our little grassroots movement is a good example of what should have taken place with the rest of the nation," she said. "People should have acted quickly. Our leadership failed us. Trump failed us in many ways."

The original fundraising goal was $50,000, but has been bumped to $1 million or more. There are 180,000 people living on the Navajo Nation, in portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The toll-free line to request support is 1-833-956-1554.

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Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM