The SVdP Water Truck parks at a family's encampment on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

Water relief for a family in abandoned trailers

A family on the outskirts of Phoenix relies on its biweekly visits from SVdP's water truck

On the Gila River Indian Reservation just outside Phoenix, stands an abandoned house and a few abandoned trailers. In the blistering summer sun, the structures provide the only home and shelter for an entire extended family.

As the temperatures climb near 110 degrees, hope arrives. They hear the rev of a specific motor, and their ears prick up. They know it's St. Vincent de Paul's Celebrity Fight Night Water Truck, which drives around the Valley to distribute water and other relief items to those struggling to survive the intense heat.

“Everyone jumps up and jumps out the door when we hear the truck coming,” said Rae Valdez, one of the matriarchs of the group. The family is often anticipating when the truck might arrive, trying to calculate and remember the last day it came.

The family talks with Joseph at the Water Truck.

The water truck usually stops at the family’s encampment twice a month, and Joseph Yanez, SVdP's water truck program supervisor and driver, says he tries to help them stockpile drinking water to make it through the month. They also drop off other vital supplies, like sunscreen, chapstick, summer clothing and food.

The reason the water truck visits this group on its biweekly routes is the same reason it visits anyone — they need help and don't live near or have transportation to other social services. Joseph takes his role and the service mission seriously, especially as recent Maricopa County statistics showed a record 645 heat-related deaths in 2023 (almost half of which were people experiencing homelessness).

SVdP and Joseph's efforts make sure Rae and her family don't become one of those statistics for 2024. 

Rae Valdez and Tillma Sanchez sit under a tree near their encampment.

Rae and her family are nearly totally disconnected from the rest of the world, their only running water is from a hose. They have no plumbing, and there is no electricity in their trailers.

“It’s not like how it is in Phoenix,” Rae says. “You step back into another century when you come back out here.”

Without their own transportation, Rae and her family don't have access to such assistance without SVdP's water truck. It's especially helpful in keeping the kids fed, who have reached an age where they eat quite a lot to sustain their growth. With their kids at their most ravenous phase of life, they often run out of food and their food stamps before the end of the month.

The encampment on the Gila River Indian Reservation has no plumbing, so the family has to use an outhouse.

Rae and her family have gratitude for the food, hygiene items and water they receive. Understandably, it can't deliver whole food boxes to each person it serves, but the lunches it delivers — and especially the water — make all the difference. 

“The water truck does help a whole lot with the little stuff that they do bring,” Rae says. “We look forward to it.”

It's a small bit of hope in the middle of desert.

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