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10 Who Made A Difference - 2020-12-02

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Organizing collections to take to those in need

SITARA GILLIAN TRUMBULL

STORY BY JAMES BARRON | PHOTO BY GABRIELA CAMPOS

Two of Sitara Gillian Trumbull’s best friends are her cellphone and an internet connection. She is proving they are effective tools in affecting the lives she touches. Trumbull leaves a constant imprint on social media, but her posts are rarely about herself and instead on the needs of others. She asks people to write letters to elderly people in hopes of brightening their days; requests items such as breast milk to give to mothers for their babies; coordinates efforts that bring donated supplies to Native communities struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. She’s even tried to help someone find a coat for their dog. “She is always giving away things; she’s like a one-person thrift store — except she doesn’t sell anything,” said Linda Grey, a friend. Trumbull’s work is done mainly from her home in midtown Santa Fe. She suffers from Chiari malformation, a congenital condition in which brain tissue extends into and presses against the spinal canal. Trumbull, 38, had three surgeries to help alleviate some issues associated with the problem, but she developed blood pressure and kidney problems that have kept her on IV fluids for the past 20 years. Trumbull’s volunteer work in spite of those struggles earned her selection as one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Make a Difference for 2020. Trumbull’s family instilled in her a spirit of generosity while she was growing up in Chicago. Her grandparents and mother regularly volunteered for a variety of organizations, so it was only natural to begin volunteering at child care centers when she was a teen. “I think it was just shown to me, but it’s just a part of who I am,” Trumbull said. “If I see someone who needs something, I can’t turn my back.” Not even the pandemic could get in the way. Volunteering has became even more important for Trumbull, giving her purpose as she mostly stays home because her immune system is compromised. She coordinates with community members on Facebook or via text messages to collect food, clothing and supplies for local families or bring trucks full of goods and supplies to various Native American communities, from To’hajiilee to the Jicarilla Apache Nation to Shiprock. Trumbull also has set up drive-by caravans to the homes of elderly people, distributing pick-me-ups in the form of cards and gifts from the vehicular conga lines. On a recent day, she and her friend Diana Abeyta coordinated such an event to celebrate the 70th wedding anniversary of Abeyta’s parents. “I’m glad I have this because it gives me something to focus on and a way to give back,” Trumbull said. “It’s been a blessing and a struggle at the same time.” Trumbull worked as a doula, someone who offers support services for women and families during and after pregnancy, but the job disappeared amid the pandemic. She is collecting unemployment benefits to supplement what she receives from Social Security for her disability. Sometimes, Trumbull seeks assistance via social media from people around town to bring her items like cardboard boxes or prescriptions. That’s how Bernadette Gonzales, a retired state worker, met her. “I thought, here is a person who can’t get out of her house,” Gonzales said. “It wasn’t out of my way. In fact, we live close by, so it wasn’t a big deal to go down to the CVS.” Those chance encounters helped develop a group of volunteers who collect and deliver goods for distribution. Trumbull estimates roughly 400 to 500 people have donated items or their time to help make it happen. Trumbull’s driveway has boxes and bags full of donations, prompting a neighbor to complain about her collection. “[Trumbull] was frustrated about that, but she was like, ‘It’s OK. We’ll deal with it,’ ” Gonzales said. Trumbull also set up GoFundMe pages to raise money for water tanks that go to pueblos and the Navajo Nation. Trumbull said she did not realize previously how many people in those areas lack running water or even heat for their homes in the winter. “That’s where the infections were spreading because they can’t wash their hands, they can’t wash their masks or if somebody gets sick, they can’t wash their bedding,” Trumbull said. “That was just a big eye-opener.” The only time Trumbull leaves her house is to occasionally help collect donations or deliver them to various organizations. Such outings have included trips to bring supplies to pueblos and the Navajo Nation. Abeyta said Trumbull usually wears a pair of masks, but she will get out to the truck to lend a helping hand. “Sometimes, I don’t know if I feel comfortable with her getting out of the truck,” Abeyta said, “but those are her choices that she is willing to take. I believe it’s risky, but walking into a grocery store or going to a restaurant is risky, too.” The reward for that risk is to help those who truly need it in the worst of times. “It’s really awesome to see people coming together who normally wouldn’t have,” Trumbull said. “It is a reminder of the beautiful side of people once they find a way to help.”

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