Originally published Sunday, August 13, 2017 at 06:00a.m.

It all started three years ago.

Lisa Tsosie, who has been a friend of The Smoki Museum for many years, asked if we could help her out. Lisa has been traveling to Prescott for the museum twice a year (almost every year) to make delicious frybread for our Navajo Rug and Indian Art auctions.

Anyone who has come to one of these events knows how wonderful Lisa’s frybread is! So, how could we refuse a request for help from such a good friend?

Lisa had become involved with the Cornfields Chapter of the Native American Church near her home on Navajo lands. The kids in this chapter needed help with backpacks and school supplies. If you have ever been to Navajo lands, you know that there is no Wal-Mart right around the corner, and if you lack something you need for school – it’s a major trip.

So, we started a backpack and school supplies drive through the museum. First, we got up to 25, and thought it was great, then 50! Lisa was thrilled and excited when we told her that we had 54 backpacks and three huge boxes of school supplies. We made the five-hour trip, dropped them all off, and waited to hear how it went.

It was a smashing success! Other chapters had also donated backpacks, and the Smoki Museum received a lovely certificate of appreciation for our work. As the responsibility for these giveaways rotates through the

chapters, we had a couple years “off.”

However, this year (2017), Lisa once again asked if we could help the Cornfields Chapter. And of course – we said yes. Enter two amazing volunteers at The Smoki Museum: Sandy Gumm had come on board, and was working the desk, doing some research and having fun. When she heard about the backpack project, she immediately asked if she could work on it. And of course, we said yes. She in turn recruited another new volunteer, Sheri Bergman, to assist, and the two of them went to work.

I believe it was about two weeks after that, and we already had 54 backpacks. Wal-Mart donated several gift cards. Dozens of museum members stopped in with checks to support the project. Grady Busse from Action Publishing in Grand Junction, Colorado, heard about it and sent student planners. Prescott Dental donated toothbrushes. Another dentist donated tooth paste. Wildflower Bread Company did a donation day for the project. Lucy’s Machine Shop is furnishing flash drives. Marriott Springhill Suites has donated 100 comfort kits. People from all over our area have stopped in with backpacks and school supplies to support the Navajo kids, giving them the very best start to their school year that they can possibly have.

Our backpack count now stands at a total of 203! We have so many supplies that we must rent a van to transport all of it. A group of Smoki Museum staff and volunteers will present the backpacks and school supplies at the Cornfields Chapter Field Day on Aug. 27. We would like to recognize and thank the fine work of our lead volunteers Sandy Gumm and Sheri Bergman, and the entire community for its generosity.

Cindy Gresser is the executive director of the Smoki Museum, 147 N. Arizona Ave., Prescott.