A recent opinion piece by Susanna Schrobsdorff, editor at large for Time magazine, tells the story of Navajo Zoel Zohnnie. A welder by trade, Zohnnie calls home the Southwestern region known as the Four Corners. After losing his father at 17, his aunt took on the responsibilities of raising him and teaching him to respect Navajo traditions and of the importance of serving his community. When the pandemic struck, Zohnnie’s heart went out to those now isolated in remote areas of the reservation, especially the elderly and disabled. As pointed out by Schrobsdorff, a significant percentage of those on the reservation do not have access to clean running water in their homes.
“With his own pickup truck and a few barrels of water, Zoel began doing daily deliveries,” writes Schrobsdorff. Word of his efforts soon spread throughout the tribe, and requests for assistance began mounting. “He was getting more requests on a daily basis than he could meet,” she writes. “He had to purchase another truck and a flatbed, and eventually two and then three, and more.” He needed funding if he was going to meet these demands, which led to joining with others in forming a nonprofit fundraising group called Water Warriors United. He next connected through a friend with an organization called Pandemic of Love. This organization soon worked out a way for donors to “adopt a Navajo household” and, through their donation, pay for a barrel of water to be delivered and installed on an ongoing basis for families on the reservation.
Since this coalition was established back in April, Water Warriors United has delivered more than 325,000 gallons of water to families in need. “Zoel pledges that the grassroots Navajo Nation Water Campaign will continue as long as he has requests for water,” writes Schrobsdorff.
This inspiring story of one person’s commitment is just one of many examples of how the actions of one can become “viral” in the most positive way. It is offered by Schrobsdorff as a reminder of how, especially during our time of crisis, creating a community of generosity elevates us all.
Next, let us look at the city of New Orleans. To its residents, news of COVID-19 must have seemed earthshaking — no parades, no elaborate floats, limited gatherings only and shuttered bars. Such was the news in the city regarding its annual Mardi Gras celebration. Yet, despite the pandemic’s restrictions, the people of this city were not going to let Mardi Gras go by without some colorful commemoration.
Resident Megan Boudreaux admits to feeling down when she learned three months ago that there would be no Mardi Gras parade permits issued this year due to the pandemic. “I decided, ‘Well, okay then, I’m going to decorate my house instead, pull some beads out of the attic and throw them at the neighbors,'” Boudreaux tells The Washington Post. She posted her idea on social media, thinking that she might inspire a few of her friends and neighbors to do the same. Two days later, she had 1,000 new followers on her Facebook page.
According to CNN, “More than 3,000 homes were transformed into stationary ‘floats’ that spectators could proceed past from a safe distance — an effort dubbed Krewe of House Floats, complete with maps.”
“All across town, papier-mache or cardboard and foil flowers of every hue, plus bunting of purple, green and gold and strands of beads the size of beach balls, adorned the homes where so many have been in retreat from the coronavirus since just after last year’s Mardi Gras,” CNN’s Forrest Brown and Marnie Hunter report.
“Mardi Gras by no means is dead; it’s just different,” said City Councilman Jay Banks.
“They can take our Mardi Gras parade away, but they can’t keep Mardi Gras from beating in our hearts,” resident Nicki Gilbert tells the Post. What a good reminder of our resiliency and also the importance of maintaining social connections as an essential need for mental health.
As reported by Kaiser Health News, in late January, just before daybreak, a Learjet 31 took off from Helena Regional Airport in Montana carrying six Veterans Affairs medical providers and 250 doses of the Moderna vaccine. The destination was the hard-to-reach hamlet of Havre, located about 30 miles from the Canadian border and the county seat and largest city in Montana’s Hill County. An estimated 500 military veterans live in and around this small town. Many more veterans reside in similarly rural, hard-to-reach areas across the United States. The VA estimates that number to be as high as nearly 3 million individuals.
As I reported back on Feb. 12, the Department of Veterans Affairs is not relying on rural vets running the gauntlet to get vaccinated for the coronavirus. The VA is coming to them, using medical records to contact the most vulnerable and get them to nearby, temporary pop-up vaccine clinics.
For the Havre event, they have reached out to veterans living across a vast region made up of small farming and ranching communities as well as two Native American reservations. According to Kaiser Health News, the military mission to Harve was a test flight which, if successful, would lead to similar efforts in other rural locations. Thirteen days later, another aircraft took off for the community of Kalispell, considered the largest city and commercial center of northwest Montana. Onboard were vaccine doses for 400 veterans.
“In places like Alaska, where hundreds of veterans live off the grid, VA officials have had to be creative,” says Kaiser. “Flying out to serve individual veterans would be too costly, so the Anchorage VA Medical Center has partnered with tribal health care organizations to ensure veterans have access to a vaccine.”
As the Kaiser report points out, this mission is essential for the VA to fulfill its mission to “diligently” serve the needs of veterans. According to the report, “As of Feb. 17, the VA had tallied 220,992 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among veterans and VA employees and 10,065 known deaths, including 128 employees.”
It is heartening to see such efforts are being made to serve our veteran community and the credo that no man or woman should be left behind.