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SHIPROCK — An elderly Navajo woman pushed her shopping cart out of City Market and then approached the Navajo Nation Shopping Centers Inc. employees who were offering free refills of hand sanitizer at a table outside the grocery store.

"Here," she said, then handed a 16.9-fluid ounce plastic bottle to Curtis Berry, administrative assistant at Navajo Nation Shopping Centers. He poured out the water then placed a yellow sticker on the empty bottle and refilled it with liquid hand sanitizer.

Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, an enterprise of the tribe, offered free refills of hand sanitizer to the public on June 10 as part of the ongoing effort to support hand hygiene and to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus on the reservation.

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Byron Hoskie, the company's business development specialist, said the "safe shopper initiative" started this month and the goal is to help shoppers keep safe and maintain hand hygiene as they move about in public.

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The company has been partnering with the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development to provide fabric face masks and information about the new virus during the first days of each month at the company's shopping centers across the tribal land, but this was the first time they provided the service outside that distribution.

The hand sanitizer distributed on June 10 was purchased from a Santa Fe-based distillery and brewery company by the nonprofit groups, Protect Native Elders and Tribe Awaken, then donated to Navajo Nation Shopping Centers.

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Beclabito resident Phil Benally brought two plastic bottles and watched Berry fill the containers with the clear liquid, which contained 80% alcohol.

"It comes in handy when you go somewhere. When you get out, go into the crowd, touch stuff then when you come back and before you get in, you use it. It keeps the germs away," Benally said.

Shiprock resident Janet Begay brought containers that were 2 fluid ounces and 4 fluid ounces.

"This is not for me. This is for my in-law. She's at home and she told me to bring these," Begay said after explaining that she carries a small container of hand sanitizer for her use.

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Throughout the morning, people brought plastic bottles and containers in various sizes.

In addition to the refills, Hoskie and Berry distributed personal safety kits that included two fabric face masks, a pair of gloves and travel size hand sanitizer.

The kits also had pamphlets about how to stay safe while shopping and a business directory for businesses located at the 10 shopping centers operated by Navajo Nation Shopping Centers.

Hoskie said the company is planning another refill event in Shiprock on July 1. Information about that and other scheduled refills can be found on the company's Facebook page.

There will be free refills from 9 a.m. to noon June 12 at the shopping centers in Dilkon and Tuba City, both in Arizona. They are also planning dates for the shopping centers in Crownpoint and Pinehill and in Kayenta and Piñon, both in Arizona, either before or on July 1.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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