A veteran-led nonprofit has teamed up with a toy foundation to help bring Christmas to the Navajo Nation. They had to celebrate Christmas in June because there were strict COVID restrictions back in December.
Santa traded in his reindeers for a helicopter and helped drop off hundreds of toys on Friday.
The Veterans Medical Leadership Council launched an initiative back in March of 2020 to help veterans in tribal lands called Native American Sustainability for Veterans and Those in Uniform, or NASVU. They started collecting items and dropping them off on the Navajo Nation with the help of MD Helicopters in Mesa.
"Since then, we've done 37 helicopter missions across the Navajo Nation into Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. We've probably sent out between 50 and $80,000 worth of supplies to them," said Bob Dalpe with VMLC.
VMLC was founded in 1999 to support veteran advocacy and has a mission is to ensure quality medical and mental health care for Maricopa County veterans.
MD Helicopters' last mission with NASVU was to deliver presents for Christmas, but due to COVID restrictions at the time, they had to postpone the event to June 25, 2021.
"This may be the first toy or the first ball this child gets in a year and a half," said Dalpe. "They were just grateful that Santa Claus didn't forget them."
"There were at least 50-60 cars all lined up with kids and cars would come and pick up a variety of items that we had donated, including the toys," said Allen Maag, the founder of the Maag Toy Foundation.
Maag's nonprofit donated many of the toys.
"These kids have been really locked up for 18 months, approximately. Some of them don't have toys and to hear these kinds of stories just made us feel like this was well worth it. It was priceless to go," said Maag.
COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation have seen a steady decline, with more than 65% vaccinated.
But the veteran-led nonprofit plans to continue to help with other projects.
"They're still concerned about the poverty, the lack of support, the lack of help. They still need those basic things," said Dalpe.