ST. GEORGE — When Stan Benally started collecting food, supplies and masks for people in his hometown of Aneth, Utah and people living in the Navajo Nation, he did not expect to be overwhelmed with donations.
That changed when he received 13 pallets from various organizations in Southern Utah to be donated and delivered to Aneth then distributed around the Navajo reservation. His only struggle: finding the means to transport the goods.
Benally had already completed two trips to his hometown of Aneth, bearing food, canned goods and masks. As he was preparing to transport his third and biggest truckload of supplies, he was stuck wondering if they could continue the drive because of the cost and expenses.
That changed Friday morning. Eric Allsop, owner of the Sewing and Quilting Center of Southern Utah, was able to get in contact with Monster Storage who helped donate some of the cost for the truck needed to deliver the supplies.
During the first two food drives, donations were being accepted at the Sewing and Quilting Center of Southern Utah and the Rallystop on Bluff Street. When they began collecting goods for their third haul, organizations like Lowe’s and the Utah Food Bank donated pallets of food and water.
The third trip to Aneth includes 13 pallets of essential supplies and masks, which will be delivered in the early hours of the morning on Saturday.
“I’m excited to go and take off with this delivery in a little bit,” Benally said.
Benally started the food drives with only community support. He was amazed to see the amount of food and the widespread support with their third trip to the reservation. The growth of the drive has been shown and there have been people reaching out from across the country to help the cause.
One of the essentials needed on the reservation is water. There is not a clean water source and therefore many people who live on the reservation need to buy water from stores and transport it back. With border town stores limiting the number of goods that people can purchase, many who live there are forced to travel into town daily to buy clean water and the supplies needed for everyday life.
This also extends to the need for food. Benally said people on the reservation do not have the means to stockpile goods during the pandemic, so the time and cost of traveling into border towns has added up, creating a bigger burden. Many of the children on the reservation ate as a result of the meals provided at school. With schools closed, some families are struggling even more during the pandemic.
Benally is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and is originally from Aneth but now lives in St. George. He said he is not just delivering to strangers, he’s delivering to people that he knows and people he grew up with.
“This morning we woke up with the air conditioning running. We even warmed up the shower that we were going to get in. Well, back home, you don’t have that privilege,” Benally said. “Everything we take for granted is not available, everything is rationed. If they’re low on food, maybe you’re not taking seconds today.”
While experiencing the struggle with supplies, Benally also talked about how border towns are limiting those from the reservation from coming into their towns. The border towns are closing to the Navajo because the COVID-19 rate is so high on the reservation. Those stores are closing on the weekends, so it is making it harder on those living on the reservation during the pandemic.
According to an article by the Associated Press, there were 147 more confirmed COVID-19 cases with 16 additional deaths on the Navajo reservation Wednesday. This brought the total number of cases up to 3,392 with a total of 119 deaths.
“It’s very disheartening to see more and more traffic on our roads and more people going into border towns, but we’re not giving up,” Navajo President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “We’re going to look at what else we need to do to bring the numbers down.”
The Navajo Nation also extended their closures and state of emergency until June 7. Benally said one member of the Navajo described it as, “saving history.”
“COVID-19 has targeted our elderly,” Benally said. “They’re the ones that are holding history. They’re teaching history and they’re teaching the next generation. If we allow COVID-19 to come and take over the reservation, it will be like bringing a big eraser into the Navajo reservation and erasing history.”
Most of the history of the Navajo tribe is spread through oral translations, and Benally said they are giving back to the elderly that were there for them. With the teaching they instilled in the members of the reservation, he said it is their time to step up and give back to the people.
Benally wanted to give thanks to the community and their support of the food drive while mentioning that masks can still be donated at the Sewing and Quilting Center of Southern Utah on Bluff Street.
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