Cases of water stacked on palettes in warehouse

From Navajo Times, July 2020

A month ago, Michelle Barney asked her 150 coworkers at the Foundation for Blind Children, based in Phoenix, if they would like to donate bottled water to the Navajo Nation through a donation drive.

She never expected to donate eight palettes of water, or 245 cases.

“I actually sent an email out to them,” Barney said. “I was telling them about how everyone was being affected here and the response I got back from everybody was, ‘How can we help?’ So, it just started from there. Yeah, it just blew up.”

Barney watched the donation pile grow and grow every day. At least one of her coworkers would bring in a case of water to donate each day. This was wonderful for Barney to see. It filled her with joy to see her non-Native colleagues come together and give to her community.

“I’m actually the only Navajo staff there,” she said. “I didn’t expect this to be so big. I mean it just started coming. It started flying in.”

Her co-workers took to social media to encourage people to donate. Barney isn’t as social media savvy so she was glad her coworkers did that to spread the word.

This caught the eye of Taylor Kotewa, who owns ONE Distribution. Kotewa donated the palettes and the moving truck to bring the goods to the capital of the Navajo Nation. Barney bought the stretch wrap on Amazon to package the water and get it ready for Kotewa’s company to transport.

“I can’t wrap presents but I can wrap water,” she said with a laugh.

The Navajo Nation has seen an influx of donations since the pandemic hit the area hard. As of right now there are over 8,200 positive cases of COVID-19 and over 400 deaths.

In order to keep people home and away from the stores, nonprofit mutual aid workers as well as the Navajo Nation government have been giving out boxes of basic necessities and food.

“I have family in Mexican Springs,” she said. “I know water is a big thing out here.”

Like a third of the families on Navajo, Barney’s own maternal and paternal grandparents didn’t have access to running water. This fact is what inspired her initial idea to donate drinking water.

“We had to actually heat up our water on the stove just to, like, wash our hair in the morning,” Barney remembered of her time at her grandparent’s home.

She doesn’t visit as often as she would like but it felt great for her to give back to her community through the donation drive.

The group actually didn’t donate just water. Barney called Basha’s in Window Rock to see what the company is always out of. The store told her macaroni, pinto beans and rice. The group added this to their donation.

Some of her other coworkers donated diapers, toiletries, paper towels, bleach, multipurpose cleaners, dog food, cat food, disposable face masks, hand sanitizer, dish towels and sponges.

The donations were hauled from the 109-degree heat of the Tohono O’odham and Akimel O’odham homelands to Dinétah last Friday where they were taken in by the Navajo Nation government.