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Navajo woman who helped lead pandemic relief efforts featured in Oscars commercial

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Posted at 7:49 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-02 09:37:30-04

A Verizon ad that aired Sunday during the Academy Awards featured a woman from the Navajo Nation who has been on the front lines providing relief to those impacted by COVID-19.

Shandiin Herrera grew up in Monument Valley. After graduating from Duke University, she returned home to work in her community chapter house as part of a fellowship.

Herrera knows firsthand the challenges people face on the Navajo Nation.

Many homes have no water or electricity and no access to broadband or cell phone service. They have to travel far to get groceries.

The pandemic just exacerbated these issues. When everything shut down, families couldn’t access food and resources from their chapterhouse.

So, Herrera and 11 other indigenous women created the “Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund."

So far, they have distributed food and personal protective equipment (PPE) to 85,000 people, with the help of 100,000 donors.

Courtesy: Karney Hatch

(Photo Courtesy: Karney Hatch)

"Our goal was if we could raise some money, we could buy groceries, we could serve our most vulnerable so our elders and immunocompromised and struggling families ... could have a better chance of staying home and staying safe. They wouldn’t have to go to the border towns where we were seeing high infection rates," Herrera told FOX 13. "Within 24 hours, we had raised $50,000, and within four days we raised $100,000. Every day it just kept increasing."

In Sunday's ad, Herrera talked about these pandemic relief efforts and said having Verizon was a crucial part of it all.

"To see that commercial come out during the Oscars was really exciting," Herrera said. "I think a lot of Native people for sure, we’re kind of surprised but very proud. And then a lot of non-Native people who were reaching out because they were moved by the commercial or wanted to learn more about what’s going on on Navajo."

In Monument Valley, nearly 45 percent of homes do not have running water, so Herrera and her team provided 135 portable hand washing sinks to families on the Navajo and Hopi nations.

With 1,200 lives lost to COVID, Herrera is hopeful her community can heal and she is seeing some signs of hope.

Over 98,000 people are fully vaccinated – that’s over half of the adult population.

But Navajo Nation leaders say even more people need to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

READ: Navajo Nation looks to re-open as more get the COVID-19 vaccine