Many of the 183,000 people living on Navajo and Hopi land across Arizona, Utah and New Mexico live at least an hour away from clean drinking water. They travel across the desert to grocery stores off the reservations where prices are lower for essential such as milk, eggs and toilet paper. But since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, they’ve made the journey only to find there’s nothing left for them.
“We have the same problems as everyone else, except the access to solutions is reduced by quite a bit,” said Jessica Stago, the director of Native America Economic Initiatives. “What we can find, we have to use for our volunteers. Elders’ homes are asking for supplies because they can’t find it. We can’t help in some of those cases.”
Enter Can’dAid. The Longmont-based nonprofit organization teamed up with Oskar Blues Brewery, Coyote Logistics, Atlas Copco, Ball Corporation and CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective to ship 50,400 cans of water to Navajo and Hopi land on April 6. A second shipment will arrive Monday.
Since November 2015, Can’dAid has been delivering water across the U.S. and Puerto Rico in times of crisis. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Can’dAid offered relief during 27 disasters including floods and hurricanes, said Diana Ralston, the executive director of Can’dAid.
“We’ve been trying to figure out ways we can all help when we’re at our houses,” Ralston said. “If nothing else, the coronavirus has made us realize that we’re all in it together. We wish we could be doing more.”
Before Can’dAid stepped in, Navajo Nation was struggling to find ways to supply residents with water, Stago said. They considered purchasing 2-gallon and 5-gallon containers and pumps so they could bottle water. At least five communities were asking for water, and 30% of those people had no access to running water, Stago said. With help from Can’dAid, Navajo Nation has been able to deliver water to people who request it by the next day.
The need for clean water is probably greater than the numbers show, Stago said.
“If you have one person asking for water per community, there’s probably 20 families who need water,” she said. ”
In addition to the shipments from Can’dAid, Navajo Nation has received food and water donations from organizations such as Nestle and Mananalu. Navajo Nation has been packing palettes of donated food and water and delivering it to different communities. Priority has been given to the elderly, disabled and families with children.
The Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief grassroots organization has set up a drive-thru system where residents who request food and water are notified when their delivery arrives. Then they can drive to the drop-off site and volunteers load the shipment into the back of their car so there is no contact.
“We’re literally saving lives,” said Cassandra Begay, the communications director for the grassroots movement Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief. The organization has packaged food and water for 930 families, she said. “We couldn’t wait for the state or the federal government to save us.”
There are 10 grocery stores on Navajo land to serve 180,000 people and one grocery store on Hopi land to serve 3,000 people, and 12 hospitals across the two reservations, Begay said. In mid-April, more than 1,000 people had tested positive for the virus.
Those interested in helping the relief efforts can donate to the water program or volunteer to be a pen pal on the Can’dAid website.
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