Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Amber Arviso and her mother, Beverly, huddle around the sewing machine in their garage for hours. Amber cuts fabric, and Beverly sews masks for organizations on the Navajo Nation, which has been hit hard by COVID-19.
The mother-daughter duo, who live near Fort Wingate, have donated about 550 masks to medical centers in Gallup, Crownpoint, Rehoboth, Fort Defiance and Kayenta, and to Navajo Police in Crownpoint, food pantries in Gallup and cafeteria workers at Church Rock Elementary.
“My mom taught me to sew when I was 8 or 9, and I’ve been sewing ever since, so I already had the material and the supplies,” Beverly said. “I love my Navajo people. It is sad to hear what’s happening on the reservation. I needed to help, and this is a way I can do that.”
The Arvisos said, at first, it felt like they were alone in sewing masks for the Navajo. But then the women joined a Facebook group of volunteers making masks for Navajo hospitals, police officers, nursing homes and dialysis centers.
The group, subdivided for western and eastern Navajo seamstresses, uses funds from the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Project for materials.
In a few weeks, the groups have grown to nearly 400 members.
“I feel privileged to know all these volunteers, even though I haven’t met most of them in person,” said Theresa Hatathlie, who coordinates the efforts. “Part of our Navajo culture is K’e, our clan system, which brings energy and commitment to what we do. This is a labor of love.”
Hatathlie, who grew up in Coal Mine Mesa and lives in Apache Junction, Arizona, serves on the Diné College Board of Regents.
The groups maintain a list of mask requests from Navajo organizations.
Some seamstresses pass their masks out to elders and shoppers at Bashas’ Diné Markets. Often tucked into the masks are phone numbers for mental health services and a domestic violence hotline.
“We are making sure everything is disinfected and safe, and we are coordinating shipping and delivering to work within the curfew,” Hatathlie said. “Each one of us has been impacted by this virus. We know someone who has gotten ill or passed from this disease.”
The volunteers have donated thousands of masks, and some seamstresses have shifted to making surgical caps and hospital gowns.
Protective equipment shortages on the Navajo Nation are personal for Hatathlie. Her sister is a local health care worker, and Hatathlie has been taking care of her nephews so her sister doesn’t risk spreading to them the coronavirus that she is exposed to at work.
“My little nephew, who is 7, wants to help, so he measures the elastic and helps cut it,” Hatathlie said. “Sometimes he asks, ‘Auntie, if we make all these masks, can I go home?’ It’s a challenging time for all of us.”
Homemade masks are on the rise, which means materials are often in short supply.
The Arvisos, faced with a shortage of elastic, are prepared to improvise with shoelaces or thick yarn.
“We reached our goal of 500 masks, but we couldn’t stop there,” Beverly Arviso said. “We’ll keep going, one mask at a time, until we run out of supplies.”