Navajoland Food Service Resumes for the Winter, with Family Thanksgiving Meal Schedules – Episcopal News Service
[Episcopal News Service] Last year, the Episcopal Church in Navajoland launched an emergency nutrition service to help families weather the turbulent first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a summer break in 2021, the service will resume – punctually for Thanksgiving.
Episcopal leaders serving the Navajo Nation gathered with volunteers at the mission’s headquarters in Farmington, New Mexico on November 18 to sort one last load of groceries and load them onto trucks for delivery to the three regions of Navajoland bring to. The food was then further divided into individual portions last weekend and this week and distributed to around 300 families.
Includes: turkey, potatoes, dressing and cake for the families’ Thanksgiving dinner on November 25th.
“This is really about getting the food and resources to those who need it most,” Rev. Joe Hubbard, pastor for St. Christopher’s Mission in Bluff, Utah, told the Episcopal News Service. The elderly and families with young children are a priority of the ministry. Thanksgiving week shipments contain enough groceries for the families to “get them through the holidays and we will have another distribution in December,” in time for Christmas, Hubbard said.
Navajoland leaders had been holding similar monthly food distributions for about a year from May 2020. More than 3,800 boxes of groceries, clothes, toiletries and toys were given to families in 25 communities, including more than 1,650 children, for a Navajoland round-up. These supplies were suspended in May 2021 “in hopes of saving some money to help families over the holiday season,” Navajoland communications director GJ Gordy told ENS.
The winter months are often the toughest economically for Navajo families, Gordy said, because the growing season is over and families face the additional cost of buying firewood or propane to heat their homes. With the resumption of the nutrition service “we hope to continue this in the next six months”.
This week’s deliveries were made possible in part by donations of long-life groceries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, commonly known as the Mormon Church. Other groceries were purchased directly from the wholesaler Sysco, with the help of donations that Navajoland continues to receive from the Episcopal Church.
“We have been blessed with only one outpouring of love from the broader Church, with donations that have enabled us to buy the food,” Bishop Dave Bailey told ENS. “There aren’t enough words to say thank you.”
This financial support was especially welcome in the months following the March 2020 pandemic, when the transmission rate of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation reservation was among the highest in the United States. More than 1,500 residents of the Navajo nation have died during the pandemic. The number of daily cases rose again this fall, albeit not as high as last winter, and 58% of residents are now vaccinated.
“So many people have lost loved ones, friends and family to this virus,” said Hubbard. “We see that this virus is not going away.”
The reserve covers more than 27,000 square miles in the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. More than 30% of households have no running water, and many of the 175,000 residents live in remote villages below the poverty line, far from the nearest grocery store.
The Episcopal Church founded the Navajoland Area Mission in 1978 by outsourcing parts of the dioceses of Rio Grande, Arizona and Utah to unite language, culture and families. The church-wide three-year budget now includes a $ 1 million block grant in support of Navajoland.
“The Episcopal Church Development Office continues to work with Episcopal Church in Navajoland to support fundraising campaigns for core operations and critical services,” Cecilia Malm, associate director of the office, told ENS via email. “The development staff offer professional advice on areas such as annual donations, large gifts and fundraising, and promote support for Navajoland through social media and other communication channels.”
Bishops interested in supporting the services of Navajoland can donate online.
For Thanksgiving week, food collected by Navajoland leaders was divided roughly equally to feed about 100 families in each of the mission areas. The All Saints Episcopal Church in Farmington was used as the site of the operation on November 18, and food for the San Juan area of New Mexico was distributed from there on November 21 to the backs of recipients’ vehicles due to the increased COVID-19 caseload in the region.
The boxes contained a mix of canned food and other long-life items, as well as fresh produce and meat. “We really wanted to make sure people had turkey and side dishes for Thanksgiving,” Rev. Jack Chase, the local priest, told ENS.
Chase praised Gordy’s work in coordinating the food distribution. “She really is the engine behind everything, the one that makes it possible,” he said.
In the southeastern region of Navajoland, based in Fort Defiance, Arizona, Rev. Leon Sampson and volunteers finished packing and delivering crates of groceries to distant families on Nov. 22.
“It’s not that we expect them to come to church to become episcopalists,” Sampson told ENS. “We’re showing them that God is still in their midst.” Sampson also planned to prepare turkey meals, which will be delivered on Thanksgiving to about five families who do not have the means to prepare the meals themselves.
Many families in the Utah area, in and around Bluff, have no fresh water pipes and are given gallons of drinking water with their crates of food. Hubbard, Church volunteers, and a crew of 10 from AmeriCorps worked together to deliver nearly 300 boxes of groceries, or four boxes per family, to Utah wards from St. Mary’s in the Moonlight Church in Oljato serves St. John the Baptist Church in Montezuma Creek. Non-perishable items included staple foods such as rice, dried beans, flour, and sugar. More boxes will be distributed this week.
Going forward, the junction boxes will hold roughly enough groceries to help families for two weeks, Gordy said. Navajoland also raises money to help Navajo Nation families heat their homes during the winter.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected]