BLANDING — Traffic isn’t something you normally see in Blanding. Then again, Al Tohtsonie still can’t believe what he’s been seeing the past couple of months.
“It’s pretty tough,” he said while sitting in the driver’s seat of his pickup truck with his wife next to him.
Tohtsonie lives in the Four Corners region of the Navajo Nation. Friday morning, he and dozens of other Navajo Nation residents, drove to Blanding and waited in line in their vehicles for food.
“They’re lacking food,” said Tohtsonie when asked about conditions on the reservation. “And the shelves in the stores. We don’t have convenience on the reservation.”
Life has never been easy on the Navajo Nation reservation. Coronavirus has made it even harder.
The Navajo Nation has some of the highest positive COVID-19 rates in the country.
Families say not only have they been quarantined, but the cost of food has been increasing making it tougher for families to afford groceries when the already don’t have a lot of extra money.
That’s why when Nellie Harrison heard about the food donations being given away for free at the Blanding Food Bank, she decided to get some for herself and her extended family living on the reservation.
Right now, they’re going through a lot down there and it’s sad to hear,” said Harrison while sitting in her car. “It helps me a lot because it stretches my Social Security, which I don’t get much, but it helps a lot.”
The food, which includes lamb meat and bags of flour, were being given for free because of a new program called Farmers Feeding Utah.
The program was officially launched earlier this month by the Utah Farm Bureau as a way to help Utah farmers and ranchers as well as families who need food.
Since so many processing plants are closed across the country, farmers and ranchers have been having a more difficult time selling their product.
Some farmers have had to let their food got to waste.
“Seeing examples of that has been among the toughest things I have ever had to experience,” said Ron Gibson, who is the President of the Utah Farm Bureau.
Instead, under this new program, people donate to it online in the form of providing meals for needy families.
Contributions are set at $5, $25, $50, $100, or a custom amount.
It’s about people helping each other. That’s what America is.
–Rebecca Benally, former San Juan County commissioner
Farmers Feeding Utah organizers than use that money to purchase product from farmers and ranchers, use smaller local processors to produce it, and then donates that food to organizations that provide food to people and families who need it.
The Navajo Nation was the first delivery using meat from a farmer in Sanpete County.
“They had meat in their freezer they couldn’t sell and so we bought it,” said Gibson. “Those farmers still have bills to pay and employees to pay and families to feed. We’ve been able to bless the lives of some producers in our state and now we’re going to be able to bless the lives of people here in the Navajo Nation and I’m really excited about that.”
Already, the program has about $150,000 in donations.
More food deliveries are planned for other parts of the state, including a shipment of live sheep to the Navajo Nation this coming Monday.
“If you truly from the bottom of your heart want to give, you will give a sheep,” said Rebecca Benally, who is a former San Juan County commissioner and continues to be a leader in the Navajo community. “They use the whole part of the sheep from the head to the hooves to the tail.”
Benally says it is nice to see a program such as this one that is not political and aimed at helping families.
“It’s about people helping each other. That’s what America is,” she said.
Those waiting in line say it’s worth the wait.
“Things like this really helps families that are on the reservation,” said Tohtsonie.