Helping the Navajo Nation Fight COVID-19

May 18, 2020

While most of the focus of The Salvation Army Indiana Division’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has centered on helping Hoosiers, on Friday we were able to send much-needed aid to a community far from home.

1,500 miles west of Indiana, in an area covering 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the Navajo Nation is facing its own unique challenges during the pandemic. Its population of 357,000 residents is spread out over a geographic area the size of West Virginia. Many households must drive for hours to shop for groceries or visit a hospital, and close to 40% of the homes in the Navajo Nation are without running water.

When COVID-19 came to North America, the Navajo Nation faced a medical emergency unlike anything in modern times. A stay-at-home order that was issued by the Navajo Department of Health back in March has not prevented the spread of the virus and there are now more than 3,600 confirmed cases and 127 deaths. This is a higher per capita infection rate than any U.S. state west of New York. The lack of running water has made recommended hand washing methods nearly impossible, while Navajo cultural traditions have made it challenging to sustain social distancing and self-quarantine.

The greatest challenge the Navajo Nation now faces is how to help its isolated communities clean and disinfect their homes without ready access to running water. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is helping the Navajo Nation get the help they need to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Salvation Army has worked closely with FEMA to assist with disaster responses after hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, mudslides, and earthquakes, so the agency is very familiar with the Salvation Army “flood kits” that are key components of these responses. These five-gallon buckets have removable hinged lids and come filled with supplies to help households clean up after a disaster. FEMA identified these kits as a quick and effective way to help the Navajo Nation fight the coronavirus.

At the request of FEMA, four Salvation Army divisions in the Midwest are sending pallets of these flood kits to the Navajo Nation. On Friday, The Salvation Army Indiana Division sent 120 flood kits to Arizona for widespread distribution. Each kit includes large, clear garbage bags, heavy duty scrubbing sponges, two pairs of heavy duty rubber gloves, a bundle of lighter weight latex gloves, and four N-95 face masks. A long handle that comes with each kit can be used for the mop, push broom, and indoor broom heads also in the bucket. The most important component of the flood kits are two packets of chemicals that will make a total of eight gallons of one-step disinfectant, germicidal detergent, and deodorant for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

“I’m so grateful that we have these in stock so we can help people in need,” said Bert Williams, the Metro Indianapolis EDS Coordinator for The Salvation Army. Bert responded to the request from FEMA, quickly assembling the needed pallets and sending them off to the Navajo Nation. “When you don’t have running water, sanitizing is especially hard to do,” he explained. “These five-gallon buckets will allow them to carry the water they need back to their homes so they can get them clean and sanitized.”

With peak storm season coming in Indiana, we’re working quickly to replace the flood kits so we can respond to any local disasters we may face in the coming months. In the meantime, Salvation Army corps community centers across Indiana continue to care for Hoosiers in need with drive-thru food pantries, hot food programs, and financial assistance. As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into the summer months, The Salvation Army Indiana Division will be here, ready to serve our neighbors near and far.

You can help The Salvation Army respond to the needs of Indiana communities by making a donation to our COVID-19 Disaster Response. Click the button below to make your gift.

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