Long lines at Valley food banks this holiday season are highlighting the desperate need for help that so many people in our community need right now. In some parts of Arizona, that need is even greater.
Due to lack of access to water and full-fledged grocery stores, agencies helping those in the remote parts of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe are running out of funds to help feed thousands of families that rely on them for aid.
"The Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe are extreme food deserts. We only have 14 grocery stores in an area that is larger than the size of West Virginia. Some of those stores are just a step up from a convenience store," said former Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch. "There is an incredible shortage of access to food. People have to travel long distances to get access to food."
Branch created a GoFundMe to help bring in much-needed money to put food and emergency supply boxes for families in need.
That fund was now running out of money, and Branch warned they may not have enough to get through what could be some of the toughest months yet to come.
"When both Navajo and Hopi are in lockdown situations, people are being asked to stay on the Nation or the reservation, that makes it really difficult. They cannot leave the reservation to travel far to buy the food they need. They worry about their families, they don't want to expose anybody and they themselves may be in quarantine already," said Branch.
The relief group made up of mostly volunteers has distributed more than 48,000 food boxes in the community so far.
Now with more than 15,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in the Navajo Nation and 631 deaths, Branch feels the need for help could increase.
Due to a lack of water in parts of the Navajo Nation, along with the drought, farming their own food has not been an option, said Branch. Not being able to provide aid to the families who need it most would be devastating for their group, added Branch.
"We are running out of money to buy food to put in the boxes. We have never wanted to slow down. The reality is we will never be able to meet all of the needs in our community, unfortunately," said Branch.
The Relief Fund seeks to raise enough money to carry the Navajo and Hopi families through this second wave of the pandemic, and cold and flu season. Organizers say with a surge of more than 2,000 new cases over the last two weeks, it was not a safe time for people to be searching for food, when they could stay home and be COVID free. They estimate needing $6.5 million to fulfill that goal.
If you would like to help, you can contribute to their GoFundMe here: Fundraiser for Aaron Garrett by Ethel Branch : Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Organizers say for $100, you can help feed a family of four for about two weeks and help supply them with personal protective gear as well. A $10 donation would help feed an entire family for a full day.