All Donna Schindler initially wanted when she called the Eldorado True Value Hardware store was a few boxes of protective gloves to help her friends on the Navajo Nation.
So Schindler was delightfully surprised when the store’s owners, Destiny Allison and Steve Ewers, rallied the community to raise enough funds to provide 6,000 masks, 80,000 pairs of gloves, hundreds of quarts of hand sanitizer and enough concentrated disinfectant to make 21,000 gallons.
Allison, 52, and Ewers, 59, even made the first run to Arizona to deliver the goods during the coronavirus pandemic, Schindler said.
“They both take care of the [Eldorado] community on so many levels,” said Schindler, who worked as a psychiatrist in the Navajo Nation for years and wanted to help when the novel coronavirus began to ravage it.
She said Allison and Ewers’ success in rallying people to help gave both Eldorado and those on the Navajo Nation hope.
It’s one reason Allison and Ewers were honored as two of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference this year. The couple, who bought La Tienda at Eldorado retail center in 2009, also have initiated a community fund to help people with housing and rent challenges during the pandemic.
On a recent weekday morning at the hardware store, the pair worked in concert to help a steady stream of customers, with Ewers taking time to find an emergency hot water heater for the Thai Bistro restaurant next door.
It’s all about making connections — offering residents a convenience of services and trying to enrich others’ lives, said Allison, a longtime visual artist and sculptor who also runs a clothing store and gym at the retail center.
“We have a responsibility to enrich the community we serve,” she said as the couple’s friendly husky-shepherd mix, Wonder, wandered the premises looking for people to pet him.
They found the dog — or maybe he found them — while they were on a camping trip near Grants about three years ago.
The pair seem to draw in those who need help. Kathleen Matta, an Eldorado resident since 1988, said she has watched over time as Allison and Ewers have set up free art shows, music concerts and theater productions that both involve and attract the community, and make local residents feel like the retail center is “a community center.”
Allison also publishes a weekly electronic newsletter about community events — many of which the couple have hosted as a way to bring area residents together to celebrate schoolchildren, the arts and life itself.
“I look at how people take care of other people, and that’s what Steve and Destiny do,” said Matta, a nurse. “They take care of others.”
Allison is a native of Santa Fe; Ewers grew up in Southern California. The Santa Fe-based YMCA first brought them together. She ran the after-school program his kids attended.
His kids got to know her kids. Allison and Ewers met for a date in September 2004 and have been married eight years.
Both Allison and Ewers said they like working together; they even tend to finish each other’s thoughts with overlapping sentences.
Ewers said he grew up in a YMCA environment, where he first learned about community and caring for others.
One question that has always driven him, he said, is: “How can we make a difference?”
Small steps are important. For example, Allison and Ewers allowed some local egg vendors to set up shop for free in the hallway of their center “because we have a hallway,” he said.
When locals wanted to set up a free pantry down the hall, the couple said yes.
It’s a “take what you need, give what you can” setup, Ewers said.
The housing and rental fund, buoyed by generous donations from the community, is there to help people with short-term financial needs — like maybe providing money to rent a truck to move. Or maybe to negotiate with a landlord over unpaid rent to avoid a court case, or perhaps to avoid the declaration of bankruptcy for a family dealing with unemployment and possible eviction.
In their efforts to help those on the Navajo Nation as it grappled with the devastating effects of the pandemic earlier this year, Allison and Ewers sent out an email blast for help, asking for any possible donation. Ewers figured they’d get a few hundred dollars.
Instead, the $25,000 they raised was leveraged by Ewers through his contacts with True Value chain stores and other retailers to purchase supplies and personal protection gear at wholesale or reduced prices.
“What we try to do is empower people to be the best they can be,” Allison said. “Even though Eldorado is known for its chicken wars and contentiousness, it is a community with heart.” (The couple own about 11 chickens and now live outside Eldorado.)
Asked why they do all they do, Ewers laughed from behind a face mask.
“Why not do it?” he said. “We’re blessed with resources.”