Navajoland’s Ministry of Nutrition Resumes for Winter with Family Thanksgiving Meals – Episcopal News Service

Navajoland’s Ministry of Nutrition Resumes for Winter with Family Thanksgiving Meals – Episcopal News Service

Leon Sampson

Genevieve White and her son, Ryan, volunteer for the Good Shepherd Mission in Fort Defiance, Arizona, to fill boxes of food for delivery to Navajo Nations residents as part of a maternity service at Episcopal Church in Navajoland. Photo: Leon Sampson

[Episcopal News Service] Last year, the Episcopal Church in Navajoland launched an emergency ministry to help families cope with the turbulent early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a break in the summer of 2021, the ministry will resume – just in time for Thanksgiving.

Episcopal leaders serving the Navajo nation gathered with volunteers on November 18 at the mission headquarters in Farmington, New Mexico, to sort a final shipment of food and load it onto trucks to take to Navajoland’s three regions. The food was then further divided into individual portions for distribution to about 300 families last weekend and this week.

Among the items: turkey, potatoes, dressing and pie for the families’ Thanksgiving dinners on November 25th.

“This is really about getting food and resources to those who need it most,” said Pastor Joe Hubbard, a pastor at St. Christopher’s Mission in Bluff, Utah, to the Episcopal News Service. Elderly and families with young children are among the ministry’s priorities. Thanksgiving week’s deliveries include enough food for families to “get them through the holidays, and we’ll have another handout in December,” in time for Christmas, Hubbard said.

Navajoland’s leaders had conducted similar monthly food distributions for about a year, starting in May 2020. More than 3,800 boxes of food, as well as clothing, hygiene items and toys, were delivered to families in 25 communities, including more than 1,650 children, according to a summary of Navajoland. These deliveries were put on hold in May 2021 “in hopes of saving some money to help families during the holiday season,” GJ Gordy, Navajoland’s communications director, told ENS.

The winter months are often the most financially difficult for Navajo families, Gordy said, because the growing season is over and families are facing the extra cost of buying firewood or propane to heat their homes. With the Ministry of Nutrition resumed, “we hope to continue this for the next six months.”

Leon Sampson

Pastor Leon Sampson helps load a trailer with food on Nov. 18, which is to be wrapped and delivered to residents of the Navajo Nation. Photo: GJ Gordy

Deliveries this week were made possible in part by donations of non-perishable food from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon Church. Other food was purchased directly from wholesaler Sysco with the help of the monetary donations that Navajoland continues to receive from around the Episcopal Church.

“We have been blessed with only an outflow of love from the wider Church, with donations that have allowed us to buy the food,” Navajoland Bishop David Bailey told ENS. “There are not enough words to say thank you.”

The financial support was particularly welcome in the months following the start of 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. Daily cases have risen again this fall, though not as high as last winter, and 58% of residents are now vaccinated.

“So many people have lost their loved ones and friends and family members to this virus,” Hubbard said. “We see that this virus is not disappearing.”

The reservation covers more than 27,000 square miles in the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. More than 30% of households lack running water, and many of the 175,000 inhabitants live below the poverty line in isolated villages far from the nearest grocery store.

The Episcopal Church established the Navajoland Area Mission in 1978 by carving out portions of the dioceses of Rio Grande, Arizona, and Utah in an effort to unite the language, culture, and families of the region. The ecclesiastical three-year budget now includes a $ 1 million block grant to support Navajoland.

“The Episcopal Church Office of Development continues to work with Episcopal Church in Navajoland to support fundraising efforts for core operations and key ministries,” Cecilia Malm, the office’s associate director, told ENS via email. “Development staff provide professional advice in areas such as annual gifts, large gifts and fundraising and encourage support for Navajoland through social media and other communication channels.”

Episcopal stakeholders interested in supporting Navajoland’s ministries can donate online.

For Thanksgiving week, the food gathered by Navajoland’s leaders was distributed to feed about 100 families in each of the mission’s regions. All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Farmington was used as the staging of the operation on November 18, and food for the San Juan region of New Mexico was distributed from there on November 21. A contact-free process was established in which volunteers placed boxes in the back of the recipients’ vehicles due to the region’s elevated COVID-19 cases.

The boxes contained a mixture of canned goods and other non-perishable goods as well as fresh raw materials and meat. “We really wanted to make sure people had turkey and accessories for Thanksgiving,” Pastor Jack Chase, the pastor who serves the region, told ENS.

Chase praised Gordy’s work in coordinating food distribution. “She really is the engine behind it all, the one that makes it happen,” he said.

In Navajoland’s southeastern region, based in Fort Defiance, Arizona, Pastor Leon Sampson and volunteers completed packing and delivering boxes of food to remote families on November 22nd.

“It’s not like we expect them to come to church, to be episcopal,” Sampson told ENS. “We show them that God is still in the midst of them.” Sampson also planned to prepare turkey dinners for delivery on Thanksgiving to about five families who do not have the means to prepare the meals themselves.

Many families in the Utah region, in and around Bluff, lack freshwater installations and receive gallons of drinking water with their lunch boxes. Hubbard, church volunteers, and a crew of 10 members from AmeriCorps worked together to deliver nearly 300 boxes of food, or four boxes per day. family, Nov. 19 and 21 to the Utah communities served by St. Mary’s in Moonlight Church in Oljato and St. John the Baptizer Church in Montezuma Creek. Among the non-perishable items were staples such as rice, dried beans, flour and sugar. More boxes will be handed out this week.

Going forward, the boxes will contain about enough food to help families for two weeks, Gordy said. Navajoland also raises money to help Navajo Nation families pay to heat their homes in the winter.

– David Paulsen is editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be met at

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