A GoFundMe campaign is collecting monetary donations to help volunteers distribute food supplies and other goods to what’s known as the “Far Eastern” chapters of the Navajo Nation in the Greater Chaco region, where communities live in food deserts, lack access to running water and electricity, and are now battling an outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by a type of coronavirus.
The campaign was launched by the Torreon Community Alliance, a non-profit in the Torreon and Star Lake Chapter area of the Navajo Nation. Mario Atencio, executive director of the nonprofit said families in the area have been hit hard by the economic ripples of the pandemic. Many families in the area rely on oil and gas for financial security.
“The collapse of oil prices means the collapse in royalty monies, people are relying on that oil money,” Atencio said. “It’s just compounding. People are getting laid off. Then you have this illness coming into the community, it’s a triple whammy.”
On top of those concerns, there are even more challenges with getting supplies out to families in the area. Part of the problem, Atencio said, is bureaucratic.
“The bureaucracy in the Navajo Nation is sort of the bottleneck. There’s multiple levels of local governance,” Atencio said. “We need to get more resources out to the community.”
“Some communities have to go through a central office to spend their emergency money that was allocated by the Navajo Nation Council,” Atencio said. “Other Chapters are locally controlled, they’re basically their own nonprofits, so there’s less red tape for them to spend their funds.”
That process hasn’t made it easy for local governments to respond quickly to the outbreak or distribute food provisions and other supplies. Stay-at-home orders and curfews have stranded some families without the ability to drive long distances to reach food stores and stockpile other goods.
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“The Chapters have approved vendors that they have to go through, some Chapters have to [source bids], some Chapters are closed because of COVID-19. It’s like the most inefficient way to respond to a crisis.” Atencio said. Those bottlenecks spurred the Torreon Community Alliance to launch a GoFundMe.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the campaign had raised more than $17,000, but is still a long way from its goal of $50,000. Atencio said all donations are 100 percent tax deductible.
Atencio said the money from the GoFundMe will be used for bulk orders of supplies. The team will rely on Sandoval County’s volunteer firefighting department to help store the goods and train volunteers for distributing them, he said. The campaign will also coordinate with local organizers.
“We’re working closely with as many communities and CHRs as possible. There’s a whole spectrum of community resources, the communities are organizing themselves, so we’re trying to work with the local leaders,” he said. “The district is over 100 miles long in north western New Mexico, it’s pretty challenging.”