Arizona Co-ops Helped Navajo Neighbors in the Early Days of the Pandemic

Arizona co-ops, with help from NRECA, secured and shipped 400 face masks to the Kayenta Chapter of Navajo Nation. (Photo Courtesy: GCSECA)
Arizona co-ops, with help from NRECA, secured and shipped 400 face masks to the Kayenta Chapter of Navajo Nation. (Photo Courtesy: GCSECA)

A’hee’hee nitsaago!

That melodic Navajo phrase meaning “thank you” was the response when, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association helped secure a cache of hundreds of face masks for an Arizona Navajo Nation chapter that was struggling to get ahold of personal protective gear.

The 6,200 members of the Kayenta Chapter of Navajo Nation aren’t co-op members, but their stunningly picturesque land in northeast Arizona is served by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, which works frequently with Tempe-based GCSECA.

As the pandemic spread through the western United States in March and April, Hannah Capozzi, GCSECA’s member and public relations manager, began searching for communities throughout Arizona where the statewide association could use its substantial reach and influence to lend a hand.

“There were tons of places that needed masks, but you know remote areas are just not going to get as many donations,” she said. “So, after I talked to our CEO, Dave Lock, we decided [the Kayenta Chapter] would most likely benefit most from a donation.”

In mid-April, the Arizona statewide and its member co-ops had received a large allocation of PPE as part of an arrangement NRECA made with the Department of Energy and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send more than 71,000 masks to 439 co-ops in 30 states.

“Initially, we were told the masks were for only the most essential of workers [like] generation station personnel,” said Martha Duggan, NRECA’s senior director of regulatory affairs who worked to secure the federal PPE allocation.

But Capozzi worked with Duggan on an additional shipment of 2,000 face masks to distribute to local groups, including 400 cloth masks for the Kayenta Chapter House of Navajo Nation.

“Our communities can identify with the struggle of securing resources,” Capozzi said. “I think we all understood that in times like these, our concern for community can extend beyond our own communities.”

The Arizona state representative for the Navajo Nation, Alrando Teller, reached out to GCSECA staff to thank them for their efforts.

“I am so thankful that an amazing organization such as GCSECA held out a helping hand to the community of Kayenta. A’hee’hee nitsaago, GCSECA! Your donation will help slow the spread of this horrible virus.”

Alexis Dunnum is the communications coordinator at NRECA.