Eliot LaTray, 16, of Great Falls, Montana, a sophomore at Great Falls High School, spent a month last fall securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for members of two Native American tribes and for students and staff at his high school, and solicited donations of reusable water bottles for children at an elementary school who couldn’t use drinking fountains because of COVID-19. A member of the Little Shell tribe and a descendent of the Blackfeet tribe, Eliot knew that the coronavirus was having a significant impact on minority communities. “I have a deep love for my people,” he said. “I did not want to see Natives hit as hard in Montana as I had seen them affected in the southwestern United States.”
When Eliot heard that a nonprofit organization in Bozeman had PPE available to share, he attended a Zoom meeting to learn more. Then he made a list of contacts who could help him distribute the 1,000 masks and 100 face shields he obtained to the Little Shell Tribe’s headquarters, the Blackfeet Seville Head Start program and Great Falls High School. He also began contacting businesses and organizations to see if they could donate reusable water bottles for children at a local elementary school. He was able to collect 48 bottles from a medical clinic, and then purchased 20 more. But his project also inspired a local businessman to donate enough bottles for an entire school, and prompted the public school foundation to buy 1,000 bottles to keep children well hydrated.