Zuni Pueblo community donates food and supplies as concerns rise over possible surge in COVID-19 cases

        

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- There are more efforts in our state to help hundreds of people in rural areas who may be struggling under the stay-at-home orders. A group of volunteers at Zuni Pueblo are giving out much-needed food and supplies.

The community is a small part of McKinley County, which has dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak more than any other locality in New Mexico. About 1 in 100 people there have the virus.

The group calls itself the Emergency Mobile Pantry. Its two organizers, Zowie Banteah-Yuselew and Kelly Noble, formed it when they saw the need.

It's a big operation, raising more than $25,000 and getting truckloads of donated food over the last three weeks.

Pictures show rows and rows of baskets filled with pasta, potatoes, soup and other food, plus personal care supplies.

The organizers said donations immediately started pouring in.

'The genuine kindness and support that's coming from our own community, we are just humbled by it, and just that generosity of spirit, it can be quite moving,' Banteah-Yuselew said.

They've helped more than 400 households and are now giving out about 200 baskets each week. They're focusing on their elders, many of whom can't travel to buy food.

They said these supplies are, in some cases, a 'last resort.'

'Their faces would light up. Some of them would say, 'How did you know I needed something,' or, 'You guys came in the nick of time,' or, 'Wow, this is for us?'' Noble said. 'It's just emotionally overwhelming.'

Volunteers have put in dozens of hours. They wipe down the items before delivering them to recipients' doorsteps.

Zuni Pueblo has about 10,000 residents, according to Banteah-Yuselew. It hasn't had a major outbreak yet, but people there say they're worried they could still get hit hard.

Many work and shop nearby in Gallup, which is a hotspot.

'It's been a challenge,' said Jacqueline Edaakie, who, like Banteah-Yuselew and Noble, lives at Zuni Pueblo. 'A lot of the Zuni people rely on that city for laundry, groceries -- just everyday things.'

They're pleading for people to follow safety precautions -- for the sake of everyone, particularly their elders.

They hope they're not at risk of losing any of their treasured knowledge or rich history.

People can find out how to donate food and supplies on the group's Facebook page.