"After going to remote areas and seeing the situations our people live in, I feel a lot better about what I do and it keeps pushing me."
It was a way for Navajo Marine Colin Tsosie to protect his elders and those affected by the pandemic by running the Chinle sales team for the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Since April 2020, Tsosie and his ten-person employees have been working long hours, organizing staging areas for food distribution, receiving and packaging food and cleaning products, and performing up to four distributions in one day in the region of the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation.
Despite his best efforts, Tsosie said he felt rewarded in helping those in need.
"Personally, my crew, we'd work over 120 hours every two weeks. A few weeks were beyond that. We've been doing this for a year and it's easy to get burned out," said Tsosie. "But after going to remote areas and having seen the situations our people live in, I feel a lot better about what I do and it pushes me further. "
Often times, Tsosie and his crew would guide people by sending texts to the sales locations. After the day's distributions were completed, he said the crew would receive text messages saying "Thank you" and thanking you for the assistance.
Walton Yazzie, Chapter Manager of Chinle, facilitated the first partnership between the Chapter and the Food Distribution Relief Fund. Yazzie was the first area manager and handled 16 chapters.
He said Tsosie was an integral part of organizing the first food distributions.
“He took the initiative. He understood quickly and was very motivated to help, ”said Yazzie. “I realized I needed help and asked if he would take the second lead. From then on, he became the second point of contact for the region. "
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 to these parishes was organized in three-week cycles, with the team starting a solid week in Chinle and then moving on to the other parishes, which grouped them by regional location and distance.
At the height of the distribution, Chinle alone needed 800 boxes of groceries a week. Because the distributions were done every three weeks, 800 boxes of groceries were shared between the Nazlini, Cottonwood, Blue Gap, Whippoorwill, Low Mountain, and Hard Rock communities the following week.
In the final week of the distribution rotation, 800 boxes of groceries were shared between the Tsaile, Lukachukai, Rock Point, Round Rock, Cove and Mexican Water communities.
With this strict schedule, 12-hour days were common.
"When the request numbers were highest, we started at 4:00 PM and ended at 9:00 PM. We generally do this three days in a row. Our fresh produce would arrive at 5:00 AM and we would get the truck off at 6:00 AM The rest of the morning we would spend preparing food boxes, "said Tsosie." In the afternoon we would be in the communities doing hands-free food distributions. "
However, since late March 2021, as the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the Navajo and Hopi nations has declined in connection with the introduction of the vaccine, Tsosie and his crew have had the combined distributions of food and personal protective equipment (PPE) reductions continued with PSA-only distributions.
Relief Fund deputy director Cassandra Begay, who runs the PSA distribution program, said Yazzie and his team helped assemble and distribute over 100,000 PSA kits in the Navajo and Hopi communities.
Since November 2020, with the support of Yazzie, the Relief Fund has been able to distribute over 100,000 adult PPE kits to the Navajo and Hopi nations. These kits contain 8 ounces. Bottles of disinfectant, Clorox wipes and 50 three-layer masks. The Fund has also distributed approximately 8,000 children's PPE kits that contain child-sized masks, disinfectants, and culturally relevant educational materials related to COVD-19.
Begay values Yazzie's exemplary leadership and said she was honored to have worked side by side with the Navy.
"During this time of pain and adversity, Colin has excelled 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 in distribution services has ushered in another change in Tsosie's life path in which he will once again serve his land in the marine reserves. However, his service to his people in providing food, toiletries, and safety in general has been selfless and deserves the greatest commemoration.
All in one day's work for the Navy.
"It not only helps my home church, but also my elders. The situations our community members live in require these distributions," he said. "Your donations to our GoFundMe really help. Just a dollar donation to the relief fund can help provide a family with food for two weeks. "
The Navajo and Hopi Families' COVID-19 Relief Fund thanks Tsosie for his hard work and dedication to the relief effort.
Ethel Branch, interim executive director of the relief fund, said Yazzie has proven to be a phenomenal young leader in his community.
“Colin really embodies the best of what it means to be Diné. His hard work, discipline, dedication, professionalism and deep love for his people are very much missed, ”said Branch. "We wish him all the best on his new journey and hope that he brings home the skills he honed with the Marines so that he can continue to enrich our community."
The Fund also thanks the Chinle Chapter, Chapter Manager Walton Yazzie, and the Chinle Sales Team for their contributions to all successful distributions.