Help to ‘rise above’

Coat drive to assist Navajo families in need

By Vida Volkert
Staff writer, Gallup Independent

Navajo Child Drive volunteers
From left, volunteers Mendy Newman, Kathy Spitz, Dominique LaCroix, Elizabeth La Croix, Beverly Benge and Maxine Hale pose in a trailer full of toys, books, clothes and hygienic supplies gathered for needy families in Bluewater Sunday. “It all started with one box,” Spitz said.

GALLUP — When asked about the families the Eastern Navajo Child Drive has been assisting with food, clothes, books and toys during the past 20 years, Kathy Spitz thinks of “Joan,” a single mother of eight. Joan and her children live on the Navajo reservation in rural New Mexico and have no transportation. Two of her children need special education. She has arthritis in her hands and supports her family with her income as a pottery maker, Spitz said.

“This is a woman that is trying to rise above her situation. The odds are so much against her, and you never see her unhappy. She is always smiling,” Spitz said.

In 2012 the Eastern Navajo Child Drive assisted about 150 families across the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation during the Christmas holiday. This year the goal is to serve 175 families, said Spitz, a volunteer and one of the founders of the Eastern Navajo Child Drive. The goal is to deliver food baskets, clothes for the winter and toys to these families during the week before Christmas.

“These are families that have at least one child with special needs,” Spitz said. “By the end of the month, whatever moneys they have are gone in fuel for their homes, food. … They are trying to get their family unit together, making sure that their kids are going to school. These are families that are living in homes without windows, covered with boards, living in trailers with three bedrooms, with eight people. Most of those families do not have running water, and most of those families don’t have vehicles.”

This year Child Drive partnered with Shimá Transport Inc., a Navajo-owned company in Gallup that offers free transportation services to families in need. Spitz and Ursula Johnson, a representative from Shimá, set up a booth at Rio West Mall Saturday and collected donations for the families. It was a slow start for the partners, Spitz said, but a dozen people stopped by to inquire about their services.

“We were able to talk to local individuals that were excited there was a local coat drive,” Spitz said. “We got commitments.”

The partners will be back at the mall the next couple of Saturdays, on Oct. 19 and 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be accepting coats, books, toys and non-perishable items. The families that will be served this year will be selected through referrals from local organizations and the school system. At the present time, the partners have been keeping donations in a trailer that was donated by Paul and Maxine Hale. Other partners include local churches and the Jim Harlin Community Pantry.

“They are the resource for food,” Spitz said. “They allow us to store food there and are providing training for food handling.”

The drive started in 1993, when Spitz, then director of special education, Louise Thompson, care coordinator, both with the Eastern Navajo Agency in Crownpoint, and other volunteers started assisting families in need during the Christmas holiday.

“My mom was divorced, and I know the struggles that she went through. I see it everywhere and feel a lot of empathy for these families,” Thompson, of Little Water, said. “To get education and learn English was so important to her. … Some of my siblings have their master’s. My mission in life is to help my people.”

Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree in early child education and has been helping families in need most of her adult life. She said trough education the families can break the poverty cycle. While they are in crisis mode, however, assistance is necessary to give them hope and keep them going. She said later they might “look back and say someone cared enough to bring something when needed. Gave us happy childhood memories. Hopefully someday they will be able to help someone in need.”

Originally published: October 15, 2013. Copyright (c) 2013 Gallup Independent. Used with permission. Photo by Adron Gardner/Independent.