ST. GEORGE —When soda-maker Jones Soda sings the praises of the world’s heroes in January with a pandemic-inspired “Unsung Heroes” campaign, Zoel Zohnnie will be among the faces that will be featured.
Zohnnie is the founder of Water Warriors United, a do-good campaign under the non-profit Collective Medicine that focuses on bringing resources and comfort to Native Americans. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Water Warriors has delivered 126,000 gallons of water to communities across the Navajo Nation reservation.
The Navajo Nation has been severely impacted by the virus, with a higher per-capita death rate than any U.S. state because of the lack of resources such as water and medical care, according to a press release from Jones Soda. After quarantining for three weeks in the spring, Zohnnie decided to do something to help. Having grown up in an area where he needed to haul water home for drinking and raising livestock, he knew how great the need was.
“I wasn’t comfortable with receiving large amounts of donations and sifting through products and having a large crowd there so I tried to figure something out to do by myself,” Zohnnie said. “I took up a collection for a water tank and threw it in the back of my truck and coordinated with the local farmers market for some people who didn’t have running water.”
Zohnnie has delivered 500 barrels of water to Navajo families in need. He filled each of those barrels with a garden hose at a communal water spigot, which took about an hour each time, Zohnnie said in a YouTube video. It was hard to do with a garden hose, he said, but to fill a 550-gallon barrel at a gas station would cost $7.50.
“Another problem that the residents out here face is getting water and having a place that’s convenient that will fill their tanks really fast is hard to find,” Zohnnie said in the video. “They have to deal with not having any running water and yet when they go get water, it’s frustrating because they have to use a garden hose to fill up their 55-gallon tanks and that’ll take about 20 minutes.”
In addition to the 500 barrels of water Zohnnie delivered, Collective Medicine has built a network of volunteers and delivered clothes and firewood to Native American families in need. Zohnnie helped split and deliver 20 tons of firewood from Salt Lake City, and is in the process of making a third trip to deliver more.
All of this action caught the attention of Jones Soda and inspired them to do their part. In addition to featuring Water Warriors on 50,000 of their bottles next year, Jones Soda will also donate soda to the cause, Vice President of Marketing Maisie Antoniello said.
“I personally felt very compelled by their story just because I know the needs of Navajo Nation are not as well-known in general,” Antoniello said. “We really tried hard as we were thinking about unsung heroes about more broadly, what does that mean for people? We were trying to find these little angles that didn’t necessarily have visibility.”
Water Warriors is one of a series of organizations that Jones Soda will recognize with the “Unsung Heroes” campaign. Organizations had to be nominated over social media with photos and stories about what they’ve done to help during the pandemic.
For Zohnnie, being recognized by Jones Soda is all at once a big surprise and a great honor.
“I’m honored,” Zohnnie said. “I’m glad that Jones Soda is doing their part to recognize people out there, not just us, but people period. Everybody that they’ve taken the time to recognize, that’s a good part of the positive balance that I think should be happening with companies that are in positions to do that.”
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