Cancer Center Donation Drives Support Native American Communities

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the UArizona Cancer Center has organized donation drives to support Native American tribes in the state, including the Navajo Nation, as well as the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham tribes.

The Urizona Cancer Center is proudly giving back to Native American communities that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Going beyond cancer care, research and education, the Cancer Center has organized multiple donation drives to help alleviate some of the public health burden to these communities.

Throughout 2020, these efforts have focused on collecting food, supplies and face masks for the Navajo, Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham tribes.

NACP Food and Supply Drives

Many of the efforts to help the Navajo Nation during the pandemic relied on existing relationships to find out what was needed and how to distribute it.

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Margaret Briehl, PhD

Margaret M. Briehl, PhD, a professor in the College of Medicine – Tucson and principal investigator of the Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention (NACP) at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, has been working to address health disparities that Arizona's tribal communities face around cancer risk, prevention and treatment, including training and outreach to the Navajo Nation.

When it became apparent early on that the pandemic was affecting high numbers of Navajo, she reached out to an advisory committee that typically focuses on cancer. She heard there was great need for food and paper goods to offset some of the economic impacts related to government and business closures to prevent community spread of the virus.

“I am floored by and grateful for the generosity of our community. The University of Arizona and Tucson have a big heart,” she said, reacting to the outpouring of donations that included thousands of bottles of water, hundreds of cans of food, rolls of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach and face masks.

The first drive was held at the end of May. It was so successful that the organizers planned a second one in September.

These efforts relied on Navajo networking. Briehl, Maria Lluria-Prevatt, PhD, research administrator at the Cancer Center, and Cora Maxx-Phillips, a community partner, organized delivery of the supplies.

November COE Face Mask Drives

In response to the latest increase in COVID-19 cases locally and across the state, the Cancer Center’s Community Outreach and Engagement team (COE) has donated more than 6,500 face masks (both disposable and washable) to the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O'odham tribes. Drives were held on Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 at the Cancer Center in Tucson and in downtown Phoenix at the Biomedical Sciences Partnership Building.

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Monica Yellowhair, PhD

“With cases increasing and the holidays approaching, these drives were important,” said Monica Yellowhair, PhD, the director of outreach and tribal relations for COE. “The communities wanted to distribute the masks before the holidays, and we were happy to answer the call.”

The COE drives were in partnership with the UArizona Native American Research Training Center (NARTC). Members of COE and NARTC were alerted to a shortage of masks at a community advisory committee meeting, and the two programs quickly began organizing the drives. They also provided the communities with information on latest safety guidelines for physical distancing, hand washing and other measures that will be helpful in protecting against the spread of COVID-19.

After the drives were held, the masks were delivered to the respective emergency response teams for both the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham tribes. Each tribe is organizing its own events for safely distributing the masks to the community as they are for other care packages (food, PPE, cleaning supplies) during the pandemic.

Along with individual donations, the Cancer Center received significant contributions from several local groups and organizations, including Imago Dei Middle School. Large quantities of masks were also provided by an Arizona Legislative District 18 organization, Dems Give Back, and Duet: Partners in Health & Aging.