SMASE

Locals Flair Robinson, Christopher Beaver and Sasha Sullivan have organized donations for the St. Michaels Association for Special Education in St. Michaels, Arizona, which is part of the Navajo Nation. (Courtesy photo)

As the country continues to respond and adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Navajo Nation has been hit especially hard.

The lede of an NPR this week puts it this way, “If the Navajo Nation were a state, it would have the highest rate of coronavirus cases per capita after New York. At least 100 people have died from the virus and 3,122 people have tested positive.”

A group of locals decided to lend a helping hand in donating much-needed personal protective equipment and other items to Navajo school St. Michaels Association for Special Education (SMASE) in St. Michaels, Arizona. Local artist Flair Robinson has had an ongoing association with the school for the past 45 years, as she was first visited when she was an 18-year-old student at Baker University in Kansas. She also taught art classes there in the late 1990s. More Telluriders became involved in the school through Robinson, and students have even traveled to Telluride to participate in the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.

Robinson made her first trip with donations to the school April 27, which consisted mainly of over 200 hand-sewn masks.

“I got word that things weren’t good on the reservation regarding COVID-19, and for a couple days I couldn’t sleep well because I was concerned about the school,” she said, adding that SMASE is “a little loving community school in the middle of nowhere. … Something like this can be very devastating.”

With the help of fellow locals Christopher Beaver and Sasha Sullivan, a second round of donations was organized for an upcoming trip Monday. The school needed medical equipment and cleaning supplies. The donations came pouring in, which isn’t necessarily surprising, but still nice to see in such dire times, Robinson said who estimated over 100 people contributed to the cause.

“We just put the word out that we were looking for things, and the response was pretty amazing,” she said. “ … To me, it’s just beautiful. Every day things come in. I feel very emotional. I picked up some N95 masks, which are very difficult to get. I remember getting in my car and crying after I got that.”

“Complete strangers” are donating, Robinson said, who has been picking up items and receiving the donations at her house. 

“I don’t even know how to thank them,” she added.

That’s just what Telluride does, Sullivan said.

“Our community is so generous and rises up to help in crises; this is proof,” she explained.

Robinson, who noted the contributions of the local sewers who are seemingly spinning thread to make facemasks 24/7, is considering making a third trip after next week’s since there’s been so much positivity around it.

"Thank you Telluride community members and all who from afar have provided for SMASE. We are so grateful and words cannot express our thankfulness. May you be blessed many times over for sharing," SMASE HR Director Rita Hubbell said.

The most-needed items are disposable hospital facemasks, N95 facemasks, digital thermometers, pulse oximeters (they can be used), blue latex or nitrile hospital gloves, Pedialyte for infants and children, alcohol wipes, and rubbing alcohol. Cleaning and personal care items like hand sanitizer, toilet paper, dish soap and trash bags, as well as non-perishable food items are also needed, Robinson said. Monetary donations are also appreciated.

“What it says to me is here we are in the middle of a major pandemic, and people are broke right now,” she said. “They hardly have anything a lot of them, yet they still come together and they still give, and they still have such big hearts. They know our neighbors are in trouble, and they can’t not help.”

For more information on how to get involved, contact Robinson or Sullivan at “flairart@hotmail.com or sasha@telluridetheatre.org, respectively. For more information about SMASE or to donate directly, visit smase.org.