The novel coronavirus has hit every corner of Colorado, even stretching into the far reaches of the Four Corners region. COVID-19 has ravaged the communities of Durango and Cortez, as well as neighboring reservations. The region has seen a relatively high number of cases, and the economic fallout of the pandemic has drastically impacted the region on top of all the lives lost.
However, one network is stepping up to help.
“Since it’s a rural area, everyone is used to helping each other in a lot of ways,” said Bati Alon, a volunteer who handles food distribution for the network. “People have been participating in mutual aid and they don’t even know it. Honestly, it just allowed us to expose needs that were already here [pre-COVID]. We’re just filling a need that we know has already been here but that nobody has really cared about.”
Four Corners Mutual Aid Network is a group of volunteers, community members and activists who have banded together to help those who have been impacted by the pandemic in whatever capacity is possible, from food to clothing to rent assistance.
The counties of La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel have a combined population of 107,171 people. According to the Durango Herald, these counties have reported approximately 3, 724 COVID-19 cases, totaling just under 3.5%. Of those cases, 5.3%, or 199, of them have resulted in death. Although these numbers are behind the national average, they are significantly higher than the statistics for the rest of the Colorado. State-wide, there have been 58,680 positive COVID-19 cases, equal to 1.1% of the total population. Of those cases only 3.3% have resulted in death. One volunteer from the network alluded to the fact that communities in this region are often overlooked.
The network holds a weekly Zoom meeting. The number of attendees ranges anywhere from five to 20 people who have set aside time to help create and sustain an operation that boasts “Solidarity, Not Charity!” on its website. Alon emphasized the fact that the group doesn’t have a centralized leadership.
“There’s the core group that meets regularly and decides what direction we all want to go. It’s all pretty horizontal,” Alon said, in turn acknowledging the organic nature of the network’s genesis.
Each person spearheads a project, such as food distribution, and is responsible for their own group of volunteers. The number of people involved covers a wide swath of land, spanning from Montezuma and La Plata counties; the towns of Ignacio and Towaoc; and all over the Ute reservation. Occasionally, they receive calls for aid from out in Utah as well.
The group has created a phone line that people in the area can call if they need immediate assistance.
“If someone’s washing machine breaks, then they can just give us a call and we can help them find a washing machine,” Alon said. Additionally, a public Google spreadsheet, created by the network, is made accessible to any person. Both people who need help and those who have help to offer share their information thanks to the network, but the need for longer-term infrastructure for aid distribution is pressing.
Rather than taking a reactive approach, Alon’s goal is to set up the network that fosters a proactive approach to the problems people are facing in the wake of the pandemic.
“We’re in the phase right now of trying to set up our project in a more long-term, sustainable way instead of just being an emergency relief, and so we need our next chunk of change for that,” Alon said.
The network is currently in the process of setting up a week-long online auction from Sept. 28-Oct. 4. Anyone from anywhere can donate an item for auction, such as a stay at one’s cabin, artwork and services like massages and haircuts. Those who donate an item up for auction would be responsible for shipping out the item once the auction has finished. The final auction amount would then go into the mutual aid fund. This creates an incentive for people to donate and also helps many people who may not have expendable cash but have skills to barter to contribute to a greater cause. It’s also good for artists who donate their work because it may help expose their name to corners of the world that they may not have been able to reach organically.
“We just want to raise enough money to help people get food and, more urgently, help people with their rent,” Alon said. The latter is a pressing concern for communities not only in the Four Corners region but across Colorado. Up to 40 million Americans nationwide could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year, according to The Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
You can learn more about the auction on Four Corners Mutual Aid Network’s Facebook page. The spreadsheet is available here if you would like to help or request aid, and the network has a website with frequent updates and links to other resources as well. They will be accepting donations for the auction up until September 28, and any item is graciously welcome. If you would like to directly donate, the network has a paypal account and is always accepting direct donations of money.
“We’re a pretty small community,” Alon said. “So, one person has a huge impact on so many other people.”