TUBA CITA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A Tuba City man who’s been traveling all over Arizona and New Mexico to help the Navajo Nation is getting recognized by a popular soda company. Soon, bottles of Jones Soda will have his picture on them throughout the country.
The more than 11,000 cases of COVID-19 and a higher per-capita death rate than any state show Navajo Nation has been hit particularly hard by the virus. Navajos have dealt with extended curfews, lockdowns, and quarantines with the hope of curbing the spread. Several nonprofits have been bringing essential supplies for months, but in March, Zoel Zohnnie noticed one thing his people weren’t getting.
“I didn’t see anybody delivering water to the homes in the remote areas, to the people that don’t have running water,” he said.
Though he had just been laid off, Zohnnie didn’t hesitate to hitch up a 275-gallon tank and start making deliveries all over the state. Not only did people not have running water, but they didn’t even have barrels in which to store any.
“The moment in your life when someone comes up to you with 15 buckets, empty buckets, and they need water, and you’re like, ‘Well where’s your water barrel?’ -- because I grew up hauling water, but we always had a water barrel -- and it just kind of was one of those moments that takes you by surprise. It sets you straight,” Zohnnie said.
“It feels good. It’s nice to help. It’s really rewarding when you get out there,” Zohnnie said. “We’ve had elders cry and we’ve had elders pray.”
Meanwhile, Jones Soda Co. – a craft soda company in Seattle with very unique flavors – learned about the Water Warriors through a submission to their ‘Unsung Heroes’ initiative. The company had been asking people to send pictures of difference makers during the pandemic. Submissions included a lot of healthcare workers and food service workers. Collective Medicine’s co-founder sent in Zohnnie’s picture and explained what he does.
“We fell in love with the story, so we went back and we were like, ‘Hey, we love this story. Could you send more pictures?’” said VP of marketing Maisie Antoniello.
Zohnnie and his nonprofit will now be featured on labels of green apple soda bottles starting at the beginning of the year – one of only 6 submissions selected nationwide.
“For us to be one of the few groups that makes the cut, it’s really an honor,” Zohnnie said.
“We’re super, super excited to do this, and just really impressed with the work that they’re doing,” Antoniello said. “As hard as 2020 has been, I think you really see the moments of people truly stepping up in really powerful ways and it really moves you.”
After seven months of deliveries, you could say the barrels runneth over as the warriors continue making the rounds to refill barrels with water and hearts with hope.
Collective Medicine is also working on what they call the Sasquatch Fellowship for the winter. It’s the same as the water warriors, but with firewood. You can donate to their efforts here.