Food and supplies from the Bishops’ Central Storehouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been sent to remote areas of the Navajo Nation Reservation to assist the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Navajo Nation spans portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah in the Southwestern United States.
“The majority of the homes in the United States without power and running water are on the Navajo Reservation,” said Elder Todd S. Larkin, Area Seventy, North America Southwest Area. “Limited internet service often makes them the last to be informed in a crisis.”
Two Deseret Transportation trucks from Salt Lake City carrying canned goods, flour and pasta arrived at a Pentecostal church in Tohatchi, New Mexico, on Thursday morning, April 2, 2020, for distribution. Members of the Navajo Nation government, a local pastor and Church members worked to unload the products.
“We appreciate the help and hope that we can reach as many people as possible who are in need,” said Shannon D. Pinto, a New Mexico state senator, who helped empty the trucks. “I also hope we can continue our relationship [with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] until this is all over. Blessed are those who help.”
“We’re just here to help with what’s going on in this epidemic, but to also uplift our community [and] protect our [tribal] elders,” said Pastor Martin Eastridge of the Tohatchi United Pentecostal Church on the Navajo Reservation in Tohatchi.
Pastor Eastridge donated the use of his church building to warehouse food and supplies for the relief effort. “[Latter-day Saints] have always been known for food storage. I read a lot about their being ready for times like this. We should all take a lesson from them.”
“Volunteers then assembled more than 100 30-pound boxes of food for high-risk individuals – those on oxygen, in wheelchairs, latchkey elders, families with no transportation,” explained Lynn A. Whipple, region manager of the Church’s Welfare and Self-Reliance Services Department.
“I just want to say thank you very much, everybody, for giving us this donation,” said Navajo Nation Council Delegate Pernell Halona from Tohatchi. “We’ll make good use of it. There’s a lot of people out here that need supplies for the elderly and the people that are [in a] handicapped situation.”
“The elderly typically live in the more rural areas of the reservation, where diabetes and lung disease are exceptionally common, making them highest at risk if they contract the virus,” added Elder Larkin.
Many of the recipients live up to 50 miles away from grocery stores or other conveniences. Curfews are also in place on the reservation to limit the spread of the virus, and the elders are being kept in their homes to keep them safe.
“Without power and water, simple things like bathing and washing hands are at a premium,” explained Elder Larkin. “If the virus gains a foothold here, the results will be devastating.”
“Food boxes were delivered by volunteers – often driving on long, isolated dirt roads – who dropped boxes on doorsteps or in person while maintaining social-distancing efforts,” said Whipple.
“We made it from [the] warehouse in Salt Lake City to homes of the elderly, down long dirt roads to some of the most remote areas on the Navajo Reservation in two days,” said Earl Tulley, a volunteer who assisted with the food deliveries on the eastern portion of the reservation.
Tulley also serves as a member of the Church’s North America Southwest Area Native American Resource Group. On Monday, he was wrapping up the final deliveries to grateful recipients in remote areas on the reservation.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a 150-year relationship with the Navajo Nation, and we are determined to do all we can to ensure that they fare as well as any of the rest of us in this crisis,” said Elder Larkin.
“We are anxious to do all in our power to relieve suffering and to ensure that adequate food is distributed to the elderly so that they do not go hungry and are not forced to go out into public areas where they could be exposed to the virus,” he said.
The Navajo Nation, White Mountain Apache Tribe and several surrounding counties and communities are joining a global fast for COVID-19 relief on Good Friday, April 10. Navajo County, Arizona, leaders have declared Friday a “Community Day of Prayer and Fasting.”