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The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Crowdfunding Creates A De Facto Food Bank For The Navajo Nation

Artwork created for the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Artwork created for the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Ethel Branch is the former attorney general of the Navajo Nation. A few weeks ago, when she went grocery shopping in Flagstaff, Arizona, she noticed that the shelves were already pretty bare. That worried her. For shoppers from the nearby Navajo Nation, a grocery store can be hours away.

"I decided, 'Well, you know what, maybe we should do a GoFundMe page,'" Branch said.

Launched March 15, the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund has, as of Thursday afternoon, raised more than $168,000 of its $250,000 goal. The fund's 3,500 donations have essentially created a food bank and delivery service for the Navajo Nation as the COVID-19 crisis intensifies there.

"Our goal will be to help the elderly (especially those raising their grandchildren), the immunocompromised, single parents, and struggling families by helping them buy groceries, water, and health supplies, and by protecting them (and their vulnerable communities) from exposure by engaging volunteers to make the purchases and deliver them to a safe transfer location for the families," the website says.

Branch said the fund's volunteers sterilize the items and then organize them into baskets, and they're trying to work with community health representatives to identify and reach the most needy individuals across the Navajo Nation, which spans some 27,425 square miles.

"It's a particularly vulnerable community," Branch said, "so I'm really concerned about getting food to people and making sure that they're not having to go to the local grocery stores, of which there aren't very many."

As of March 25, the Navajo Nation reported 69 cases of COVID-19, up from the two cases it reported on March 17.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

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