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Organizer thrilled with response from across region

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FARMINGTON — San Juan College English professor Danielle Sullivan tried to keep her expectations reasonable when she began organizing a donation drive for Navajo Nation residents who are running short of food, water and other essential items because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I initially thought, 'I'll drive my Fiat up there (to the Navajo Nation) if that's all we get," she said, laughing, on May 16, as she stood at the crowded donation drop-off site on the college campus.

The latest: Here are the latest coronavirus updates from San Juan County, Four Corners region

Sullivan found herself surrounded by donations and volunteers as the drive came to an end with a bang. A 48-foot trailer belonging to the college quickly was being filled with donated bottled water, nonperishable food, cleaning supplies, diapers and pet food, and Sullivan acknowledged that the effort had been far more successful than she envisioned.

"Yep, by far," she said, her grin evident even beneath her protective face mask.

The drive began May 8 with a trickle of vehicles pulling into the donation site on the college campus. By the time it ended in the early afternoon on May 16, plenty of local residents were still cruising by to add to the bounty. Sullivan said more than 200 cases of water, 250 bags of pet food and several hundred boxes of food were included.

"It's so affirming to see so many community members come together," she said.

The effort was led by 35 volunteers associated with the college. The donations will be driven to the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock, Arizona, on May 20 and divided for distribution to needy residents of the reservation through chapter houses. Sullivan said she had received assurances that residents of Shiprock and other Navajo communities in San Juan County would be among the recipients.

The drive was buoyed by contributions from north of the state line. Sullivan said donation drives were organized by Target Rental and the Durango West 2 subdivision in Durango, and the Pine River Library in Bayfield, Colorado. She said the Bayfield donors showed up en masse on May 16, and volunteers originally assumed it was a funeral procession when they saw the vehicles lined up.

Others are reading: Navajo leaders propose framework for coronavirus relief funding

But most of the donations came from individuals, Sullivan noted.

"I have to say some of them were incredibly generous," she said, explaining that some donors contributed $200 to $300 worth of items.

Other donors stopped by to inquire about what items were most in need, then returned later with exactly those items.

"Some people were dropping off whole pickup loads of supplies," she said.

Sullivan said she was distressed by social media chatter she had seen that blamed Navajo residents for the spread of the virus in San Juan County, which is a COVID-19 hotspot. She said she believed the overwhelming success of the drive helped offset that attitude and served as a repudiation of that kind of thinking.

"I think these kinds of events provide opportunities for us to show who we are as a community," she said. "Tragedy is happening all around us, but beautiful things are happening, too. It's important to remember that."

Keep reading: Farmington, San Juan County officials said 'no thanks' to offer of regional coronavirus lockdown

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com.

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