Window Rock, Navajo Nation - For Navajo Marine Colin Tsosie, helping lead the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund’s Chinle distribution team was a way he could help protect his elders and those affected by the pandemic.
Since April 2020, Tsosie and his staff of ten have been working long hours, organizing staging areas for food distributions, receiving and packaging food and cleaning supplies, and conducting up to four distributions in one day across the Central Agency region of the Navajo Nation.
For all his effort, Tsosie said he feels rewarded by being able to help those in need.
“Personally, my crew, we’d do over 120 hours every two weeks. Some weeks were above that. We’ve been doing this for a year and it's easy to get burned out,” Tsosie said. “But having gone out to some remote areas and seeing the situations our people are living in, I feel a lot better about what I’m doing and it keeps me pushing forward.”
Often, Tsosie and his crew would direct people to the distribution locations by sending texts. After the day’s distributions were done, he said the crew would receive text messages saying “thank you” and noting appreciation for the assistance.
Chinle Chapter Manager Walton Yazzie facilitated the initial partnership between the Chapter and the Relief Fund for food distributions. Serving as the first area lead, Yazzie took care of 16 chapters.
He said that Tsosie was an integral part of organizing the first food distributions.
“He took initiative. He caught on quick and was very motivated to help,” Yazzie said. “I realized that I needed help and asked if he would become the second lead. From there on he became the second contact for the area.”
Tsosie and his team led direct relief efforts that covered thirteen communities including Chinle, Blue Gap, Cottonwood Whipporwill, Nazlini, Low Mountain, Tsaile, Lukachukai, Round Rock, Rock Point, Red Mesa, Mexican Water and Cove.
Distribution among these communities was organized in three-week cycles where the team started in Chinle for a solid week and then they would move on to the other communities that they grouped according to regional locations and distances.
At the height of distributions, Chinle alone required 800 food boxes per week. As distributions were conducted on a tri-weekly basis, the following week 800 food boxes were split between the communities of Nazlini, Cottonwood, Blue Gap, Whippoorwill, Low Mountain and Hard Rock.
During the last week of the distribution rotation, 800 food boxes were split between the communities of Tsaile, Lukachukai, Rock Point, Round Rock, Cove and Mexican Water.
With this vigorous schedule, 12 hour days were common.
“When the request numbers were at the highest, we’d start at 4 a.m. and finish around 9 p.m. Generally, we’d do this for three days in a row. Our fresh produce would arrive at 5 a.m. and we’d unload the truck by 6 a.m. The rest of the morning we’d spend preparing food boxes,” Tsosie said. “By the afternoon, we would be out in the communities conducting touch-free food distributions.”
Since the end of March 2021, with the numbers of COVID-19 positive cases declining across the Navajo and Hopi Nations coupled with the vaccine roll-out, Tsosie and his crew have tapered off the combined food and personal protective equipment (PPE) distributions but have continued with PPE-only distributions.
Relief Fund Deputy Director Cassandra Begay, who leads the PPE Distribution Program said that Yazzie and his team helped assemble and relay over 100,000 PPE kits across Navajo and Hopi communities.
Since November 2020, with Yazzie’s assistance the Relief Fund has been able to distribute over 100,000 adult PPE kits across the Navajo and Hopi Nations. These kits include 8 oz. bottles of sanitizer, clorox wipes, and 50 three-ply masks. The Relief Fund has also distributed approximately 8,000 kids PPE kits that include kids-sized masks, sanitizer and culturally relevant education material related to COVD-19.
Begay appreciates Yazzie’s exemplary leadership and said she feels honored to have worked side by side with the Marine.
“During this time of pain and adversity, Colin has stepped forward as a brave and fearless leader, a positive agent for change, and an inspiration to many by working tirelessly to protect our most vulnerable,” said Begay.
This transition of distribution services has ushered another change in Tsosie’s life path where he will return to serving his country in the Marine Reserves. Yet, his service to his people in providing food, sanitization supplies and security, in general, has been selfless and deserving of the utmost commemoration.
For the Marine, it’s all in a day's work.
“It’s not just helping out my home community, it’s helping my elders. The situations our community members live in require these distributions,” he said. “Your donations to our GoFundMe really help. Even just donating one dollar to the Relief Fund can help supply a family with two weeks of food.”
Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund would like to thank Tsosie for his hard work and dedication to the relief effort.
Relief Fund Interim Executive Director Ethel Branch said that Yazzie has proven himself to be a phenomenal young leader in his community.
“Colin truly embodies the best of what it means to be Diné. His hard work, discipline, dedication, professionalism, and deep love for his people will be greatly missed,” Branch said. “We wish him the very best in his new journey, and we hope he will bring the skills he refines in the Marines back home so he can further enrich our community.”
The Relief Fund also thanks the Chinle Chapter, Chapter Manager Walton Yazzie and the Chinle distribution team for their contributions to all the successful distributions.