Medical Students Bring Supplies to Rural Arizona

Lindsay Roberts
Lindsay Roberts
Students Inspired by Need of Navajo Nation Residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic

University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix fourth-year medical students Lorna Rapaich and Krichelle White were inspired to lend a hand to the Navajo community of Hardrock, Arizona, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lorna Rapaich and Krichelle White
Lorna Rapaich and Krichelle White
Rapaich, who is a member of the Navajo Nation and originally from Hardrock, wanted to do something after she became aware of the hardships the remote area is facing during the pandemic. Hardrock is a census-designated area in Navajo County, covering 78,100 acres in northeast Arizona with more than 1,100 people.

“Sometimes the smaller communities are often forgotten about, or they are the last to receive any aid. This was very unsettling for me,” said Rapaich. “I wanted to find a way to lessen the burden for not only my family, but for other members of the Hardrock community.”

The Navajo Nation has been hit hard by COVID-19 due to the many vulnerabilities of the population, Rapaich explained. There is a higher proportion of individuals with underlying medical conditions that affect not only the elderly but also children and middle-aged adults. Some residents lack running water and refrigeration. Coupled with the fact that many households are multi-generational, it has been difficult to contain the spread of the virus.

Additionally, communities in rural Arizona have a limited number of grocery stores, which makes planning ahead and making minimal trips to the store almost impossible because many items are out of stock. Due to the distance to the nearest grocery store, making the trip can be financially draining as well.

The virus has forced the local boarding school to close and the school lunch program has ceased, leaving an increased need for more food at home. Rapaich said all those needs prompted her to organize the campaign.

She brought the idea to her friend and classmate Krichelle White, who initiated and organized a social media campaign to raise awareness and gather donations from classmates and members of the community.

Donations Collected by Rapaich and White to Help Aid the Navajo Nation
Donations Collected by Rapaich and White to Help Aid the Navajo Nation
Donations included canned food, diapers, wipes, detergent, hand soap, travel-size hand sanitizers, gloves, bleach, toilet paper and bottled water.

All monetary donations were used to purchase food baskets for the elderly and families with school-aged children, which were assembled and delivered by a Hardrock general store.

White said the donations were well received. “They were happy to know that they were not forgotten,” she said.

After they collected the items, they worked with Germaine Simonson, who owns the Rocky Ridge Gas + Market, to assemble and distribute the food baskets. Those who distributed the goods wore personal protective equipment and had no contact with elders in the community.

“It truly was a matter of just helping out one another,” Rapaich said. “As students, we may not have a lot to give, but we have a little, and sometimes that is enough to make a big difference.”

About the College

Founded in 2007, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix inspires and trains exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders to optimize health and health care in Arizona and beyond. By cultivating collaborative research locally and globally, the college accelerates discovery in a number of critical areas — including cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular disease. Championed as a student-centric campus, the college has graduated more than 800 physicians, all of whom received exceptional training from nine clinical partners and more than 2,700 diverse faculty members. As the anchor to the Phoenix Bioscience Core, which is projected to have an economic impact of $3.1 billion by 2025, the college prides itself on engaging with the community, fostering education, inclusion, access and advocacy.