Jess Falkenhagen and a few helpers load a van before delivering supplies to the Navajo reservation in Window Rock, Arizona.
CNN  — 

Eighth-graders at the Waldorf School in Santa Fe, New Mexico had spent the entire year raising $2,800 for their rafting trip, a thrilling end to their time in middle school. But then came Covid-19.

Rather than mope after the trip’s cancellation, the students chose to make a major impact on the lives of others by using the money to help the Navajo Nation, which is struggling amid the pandemic.

In May, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per-capita coronavirus infection rate in the US – another sign of Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on minority communities.

The students used their $2,800 fund to purchase supplies, which were then delivered to members of Navajo Nation.

“I am very proud of my students, but I’m not surprised,” said Daisy Barnard, their eighth-grade teacher. “This is a very generous and compassionate group of teens. They have been raised to think outside their own immediate lives and it shows in moments like this.”

Picking up supplies

The idea came from Jess Falkenhagen, one of the parents in Barnard’s class.

Falkenhagen, who is a cultural anthropologist, said she was concerned about the impact of coronavirus on Navajo Nation.

“A third of the nation does not have access to running water,” Falkenhagen told CNN. “The multi-generational homes where contagion spreads due to inability to social distance and the underlying health issues of so many folks make them particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.”

The mother of four contacted Navajo leaders to ask what they needed. Essential items for babies and non-perishable food made the list. So did diapers, formula, toilet paper, wipes and medicines.

Out of an abundance of caution during the pandemic, only Falkenhagen and her two daughters, Daisy Russell and Indie Russell, ventured into the stores to purchase supplies.

The three shoppers gathered over 50 cans of soup, 75 pounds of potatoes, boxes of pasta, dried beans, rice, pet food and a dozen reusable five gallon jugs filled with water.

Supplies fill a shopping cart before being delivered to the Navajo Nation.

Indie, a high school junior, also donated a bag of masks she made on her own sewing machine.

Hand-sewn masks made by Indie Russell sit ready for delivery to the Navajo reservation.

“My teenage daughters really learned how expensive basic food and baby supplies are,” Falkenhagen said of the shopping experience. “It was a sobering reality for them to calculate how much baby formula and diapers we could buy with the money. And to think about how the pandemic’s unemployment would be affecting people all over the world that were struggling with providing the basics for their families.”

Happy helping out

Falkenhagen and her eldest daughter then made the drive to Window Rock, Arizona, in a rented van brimming with the donations from the Waldorf School’s eighth grade class.

“Everyone everywhere had important things canceled and some things people had been planning for years,” Daisy said. “I was just glad someone else could benefit from our fundraising we did for our trip!”

Daisy Russell loading water jugs into the van. The water would soon be delivered to the Navajo Nation  in Window Rock, Arizona.

Barnard said students were happy with their decision to spend the money they raised – mostly through pizza sales – on a great cause.

“I’ve heard from parents and students that they feel so much better knowing that the money they worked so hard to raise was going somewhere where it was needed and would make a difference.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story omitted the first name and identification of Daisy Barnard and also spelled her last name wrong. The story also included the wrong number of children for Jess Falkenhagen. She has four kids.