Traditional treats nourish, foster nostalgia for homebound families
By Krista Allen
Special to the Times
Apples, oranges, peanuts in shell, candies, chocolate, chips, beef jerky, animal crackers, fruit snacks, juice boxes and Vienna sausage – treats like these, for some people, are just something to eat.
But for older people, they bring upon overwhelming joy and nostalgia, said Pauline Martin Sanchez, whose family, the Frank and Mary Martin family of Bodaway-Gap, just wrapped up a holiday care package project despite the hurdles posed by the pandemic.
For nearly a year, Sanchez’s and her family’s COVID-19 relief organization, Families to Families Ajooba’ Hasin, worked to support Bodaway-Gap families affected by the coronavirus. They traveled on bumpy roads day and night, week after week, delivering supplies – such as food, pet food, water, propane, cleaning and disinfecting products, and personal protective equipment – to families living in remote areas. They also installed off-grid outdoor showers and handwashing stations for some families.
But the need was greater for the holidays, said Sanchez. “I hope they’ll be reminded that they are remembered,” she said. “We tried to accommodate things they used to have during the holidays.” The care packages included not only the brown paper lunch bag filled with holiday treats but also canned food, over-the-counter flu medicines, flu season items such as thermometers and vitamins, and toys and books for children.
The Navajo Nation has been under COVID-19 lockdown measures and some people have to quarantine or stay isolated, said Sanchez. “They can’t go anywhere. They have to stay home,” Sanchez said. “I said, ‘How are they going to do anything for Christmas?’ That really hit me hard and I said, ‘We need to do something.’ And those wonderful elders (in Bodaway-Gap), they look forward to Christmas with their children and grandchildren.” Sanchez said the holidays for Bodaway-Gap families are about creating a sense of wonder, excitement and expectation.
This holiday season was different and much was missing. For some, it was just another day battling COVID-19. “They needed something that brings some delight,” Sanchez explained. “The holidays – that time to be together in a way that still comforts our elders, so they stay safe. I thought we could do something.”
That something, she says, needed to send a message of hope, healing, spirit, and to brighten their day. “I can just imagine them sitting there opening the bags up and seeing familiar things that they can eat,” Sanchez said. “Some (elders) are losing their teeth, so my family specialized food for some.”
Serving the community
Sanchez and her family say service is an important part of progression. And they grow by serving others and allowing others to serve them too, meaning helping others who need assistance, which is what the late Frank and Mary Martin taught, as well as their faith.
Sanchez said a lot of the people in Bodaway-Gap are related to one another or knew Frank and Mary well. That makes the community one family. “Culturally, we take a step inward where our uncles and our aunts are our second mothers, where our cousins are actually our brothers and sisters,” Sanchez said. “Clanwise, wherever you go in the Navajo Nation, if you find, say, an Edgewater, you are an instant family.
“Our language is a language of kinship,” she said. “That’s the way I was raised: When somebody needs something, we respond.” The care packages were delivered rain or shine to around 500 Bodaway-Gap elders, including toys and books for at least 200 children. Many items were donated, some were purchased through monetary donations and some were purchased by Sanchez’s family.
Sanchez’s son, Lehi Thunder Voice Eagle, the owner of ThunderVoice Hat Company, also donated items such as facemasks, T-shirts, stickers, art pieces, and “Diné Drawings,” coloring books created by Thunder Voice Eagle and his brother, Moroni Freedom Eagle.
“I was looking at shell peanuts because that’s what they (Diné families) used to get during the holidays, but we found the packaged ones are easier for different reasons – they can enjoy that,” Sanchez said. “I lived in (Bodaway-Gap) when I was young, and I’ve seen their (elders’) delight,” she said. “I told my brother, (who helped make deliveries), ‘We’re only going to have 500, I don’t know if we’re going to have enough for parents.’ He said, ‘It’s OK, we know the children will be sharing with their parents.’ And that’s how it is. That’s so true.”
She added, “Hopefully we stuffed enough (things) into the care package and they’ll look through it and trade and just enjoy it like we used to as children.”