September 28, 2008

Supplies Heading for Reservation

By Rodger L. Hardy Deseret News

Every fall and spring, a group of volunteers from the Salt Lake City area loads up trucks and SUVs for a trek into the southwestern Utah and northern Arizona Navajo reservation to deliver food, medical supplies and other goods to some 525 Navajos ranging in age from 70 to 106.

Many of the Navajos live as far as 50 miles from the nearest border town. For them, modern conveniences simply don't exist. They live as their forefathers did for centuries. Most have never been to school, nor do they speak English.

For Linda Myers of Park City, it's the 21st year she's rustled up volunteers, vehicles and supplies to make the trip. Volunteers in her Adopt an Elder nonprofit organization can expect to stay two or three days with the elderly Indians, meeting the ones they've "adopted" and participating in their ceremonies.

The first food and supply runs went last week from the organization's West Gregson Avenue warehouse. Other scheduled runs are Tuesday to Saturday and Oct. 5-9.

After the first year of the trip, a network grew around the vision that Myers had for supporting the Navajos in their native tradition, dubbed a Giveaway.

"At first it was just a group of one or two four-wheel-drive vehicles making their way through the remote areas of northern Arizona," spokeswoman Mary Phillips said. "Those few were soon joined by many others who were touched by the purpose of the program. Today more than 2,500 people from all over the United States and a few foreign countries have joined in the Spirit of the Giveaway Circle."

Some people participate, while others just send money.

Navajos who are younger than the elders being served work as coordinators in various parts of the reservation to help the group determine the needs of the elders in their own culture and lifestyle, Phillips said.

This year, the group received a donation unlike any other: a year- old Ford cargo van. Former Channel 4 news anchorwoman Kimberly Perkins and Utah-based Equitable Life Insurance Co. made the donation, and Willey Ford supplied the vehicle, Phillips said.

Perkins' contribution came through her Profiles in Caring television show, which airs Sundays on Channel 4 and her companion Web site,, where she features the Adopt an Elder program.

Other vehicles carry a winter's supply of food, clothing, firewood and other items -- some 1,000 boxes -- and must make their deliveries before the wet and freezing weather sets in.

"Last year, we had to deliver by helicopter, because it was so muddy," Myers said.

The past winter was severe for the Navajos. Myers doesn't know what to expect this winter.

"Each day, we meet the elders at each location," Phillips said.

The caravan goes to 11 remote settlements over dusty and sometimes muddy roads. Vehicles with four-wheel drive are often a necessity. Volunteers supply their own vehicles and the fuel.

New this year is a run to Navajo Mountain in southwest Utah, where a dirt road was recently constructed. Forty-three elderly Navajos live there, but only 25 have enrolled to receive the supplies, Phillips said. Among the supplies is yarn to aid the Navajos in a chief business, weaving rugs to sell at the 19th Annual Navajo Rug Show and Sale in Deer Valley at the Snowpark Lodge Nov. 7- 9.

The sale contributes to the Navajos' meager income.

"Living on the edge ... is all they know," Phillips said.

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