Tonto remembered them
Forgotten People get water systems, courtesy of Depp fans
By Cindy Yurth
September 13, 2012
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CHINLE—Volunteers are installing gravity-flow water systems for five families in the former Bennett Freeze this week, thanks—in a roundabout way—to Johnny Depp.
In honor of Depp’s birthday, members of the actor’s fan website Johnny Depp Zone, and Depp himself, contributed $7,750 to Project Pueblo, a California-based non-profit that connects college-age volunteers with service projects on the Navajo Nation.
“It’s the largest single donation to one of our projects we’ve ever gotten,” marveled Sean Wycliffe, who founded Project Pueblo with his brother Ryan in 2009.
Every year around June 9—the date Depp was born in 1963—Johnny Depp Zone starts fundraising for its annual Johnny Depp Birthday Project, explained Natalie, the webmaster for Johnny Depp Zone (like others behind the site, she keeps her last name secret to avoid becoming a target of “hackers and haters”).
Every year, the group targets a different charity. Natalie said that this year, Johnny Depp Zone was looking for a project on the Navajo Nation since the actor’s recently filmed movie “The Lone Ranger” was partially filmed here.
“Theresa’s (another Depp Zone member) diligent research tracked down Project Pueblo, and we were immediately impressed by their work, and by the fact they were working with people who had basically been forgotten and left to cope with the most horrendous conditions with no help at all,” Natalie said. “What happened with the Bennett Freeze area was totally unknown to all of us, and so shocking!”
His fans’ generosity did not go unnoticed by Depp, who kicked in some funds (Wycliffe wouldn’t reveal how much; Depp said he wanted his fans to get the credit) and wrote a letter to Natalie and her fellow “Zoners” from “The Lone Ranger” set in Creede, Colo., on June 16.
“I’m running out of superlatives for you lot!!!” wrote Depp. “Having spent some time with the beautiful people of the Navajo Nation, I am sure that your efforts here will prove to be hugely influential and in admiration of your continued benevolence, I will be making a donation for the very same purposes in your name.”
Wycliffe said one of the main needs expressed by the Forgotten People—an organization of residents in the former Bennett Freeze—is running water. Project Pueblo had installed simple gravity-flow systems for nine families in the past, and the donation enabled volunteers to purchase materials for five more.
Since obviously $7,750 isn’t enough to run a pipeline, the group relied on a design by Rita Sebastian, who has worked with people in the Bennett Freeze for years. It includes an elevated 405-gallon tank connected to plumbing and a sink in the house.
“They still have to get their water somewhere,” Wycliffe said, “but they can go for water once a month instead of twice a week.”
Less frequent trips mean families can afford to go farther, to a clean water source instead of relying on local springs, many of which are high in uranium, Wycliffe noted.
“It will make a huge difference for these five families,” he said.
Wycliffe said he’s trying to talk Depp into visiting the project, though it’s not certain the elders of the Bennett Freeze—who have been living for decades without electricity, much less television—would recognize him.