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Progress, One Toothbrush at a Time

The Native American Coalition for Change at Santa Clara celebrates Native American Heritage Month by assembling and donating hygiene kits for those in need.
November 21, 2023
By Matt Morgan
Claire Alford holding hygiene kit in target bag

Not having enough money sometimes means making difficult decisions about your health, from deciding whether or not to see a doctor when you’re sick to even affording basic medical supplies.

Growing up, Claire Alford ’25 often saw people suffer from treatable, preventable health issues. Her hometown of Santa Maria is a rural agricultural community. Many of the residents are farm laborers who lack access to healthcare and struggle to make ends meet. 

“Even if you’re housed and have a job, living in California is so expensive you have to ask, ‘Am I going to buy this shampoo or dental floss or put food on my table for my family?’” Alford says. 

In high school, Alford raised money to pay for care packages filled with items like toothpaste, conditioner, dental floss, and menstrual products to distribute to classmates who needed them. She also put together food baskets for students on free lunch who might otherwise miss meals over winter break. 

“The goal was to address things that might go unaddressed,” Alford says. “Especially when it comes to health.” 

When she arrived at Santa Clara, the public health major wanted to continue helping those in need. So she started a similar effort through her work with SCU’s Native American Coalition for Change.

Chisomaga Nlemigbo packs care packs

Chisomaga Nlemigbo (left) packs hygiene kits with Samira Billow and Kimberly Salas-Ruiz (back)

On November 16, the NACC celebrated Native American Heritage Month by holding a hygiene kit donation event in Alameda Hall.

Thanks to gifts and grants from Associated Student Government (ASG) and Santa Clara’s Ignatian Center, NACC bought and assembled about 60 hygiene kits that will be distributed to local organizations—past recipients have included the YMCA and the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley. This is the third year NACC has made the kits, but the first year it invited members of the community to help put them together. 

“We want to make sure everyone has a chance to be healthy,” Alford says. “Improving access to healthcare is a big, huge problem that can be difficult to tackle. But having something as simple as a toothbrush is super important to staying healthy.”

On the heels of this year’s hygiene kit-building event, Alford says NACC is already planning its next big gathering: Santa Clara’s annual powwow in May. The event started in 2019 and has grown each year, engaging not only the Santa Clara community but also performers and vendors from throughout the region. 

Alford has been part of the powwow planning committee each year she’s been at SCU. She encourages all members of the community—whether Indigenous or not—to volunteer or attend the event.

“We welcome everyone to come. It’s great to learn about other cultures and make those cross-cultural connections,” Alford says. “Coming together to do something positive for our local community, I think, is really powerful.”

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