In the five years since she moved back to her hometown of Santa Rosa, N.M., Chantel Lovato has grown accustomed to wearing many hats.
She is executive director of the Guadalupe Community Development Corp. (GCDC). She also serves on the local school board and is a part-time Health Extension Regional Officer (HERO) with The University of New Mexico Office for Community Health.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came to New Mexico, Lovato realized many of the town’s 2,500 residents would need face masks, especially those working in the businesses lining Main Street – old Route 66.
“With COVID-19 going and all of the expense for them just to keep their doors open and the strain it has placed on small businesses in particular, we thought, rather than allowing them to go it alone, we could do a mask drive for their employees,” Lovato says.
She turned to a local quilter’s club that had begun making masks and also reached out to Vincent Horton, warden of the privately operated Guadalupe County Correctional Facility. Inmates there had been sewing face masks out of khaki material from old uniforms.
Within a few weeks, she says, the combined effort led to the production and distribution of more than 500 masks.
In advance of the state’s move to reopen businesses on a limited basis, Lovato also posted on the GCDC Facebook page a series of video interviews with business owners and residents who described the financial hardships that accompanied the shutdown.
“We were just trying to gain community support ahead of time,” she says. “Once we started showcasing the business’s stories, our community came together and asked, ‘How can we support them?’”
For Lovato, who went to high school in Santa Rosa before moving to Albuquerque for college at UNM, the mask-sewing project represents the best features of living in a small town.
“Whenever you see something like this health pandemic, the silos break down and you see people come together pretty quickly and pretty seamlessly,” she says. “Everybody started moving in the same direction.”
Arthur Kaufman, MD, UNM’s Vice Chancellor for Community Health, says that in her role as a HERO, Lovato has the ability to mobilize community resources to solve problems related to health care.
“Chantel is uniquely positioned to address community health challenges, which are most successful when they mobilize different sectors,” he says.
“Because she is director of the Guadalupe Community Development Corporation, she works with all sectors of her community. And because the community is small, folks know each other and support one another to a degree rarely seen in the anonymity of larger, urban communities.”
Meanwhile, Lovato is already looking ahead to the time when Santa Rosa’s schools start to reopen while taking precautions against COVID-19.
“We may try to do something like this for the schools,” she says. “Teachers are going to need face masks for the re-entry into school.”