Navajo Nation residents in Utah received a huge, unique gift from local farmers Monday-- bringing hope to one of the hardest-hit communities during COVID-19.
The newly-formed Farmers Feeding Utah shipped more than 200 sheep to San Juan County. People lined up in trucks and SUVs, some with trailers, as far as the eye could see.
For a people who value kinship and togetherness, grassroots community organizer Rebecca Benally explained that COVID-19 has left many in their community feeling lonely.
"They felt alone, isolated and afraid," she said. "It was just the unknown."
COVID-19 became a crisis in the Navajo Nation, with a high rate of cases and deaths.
The crisis kicked Utah farmers into action.
The Utah Farm Bureau (UFB) explained that unemployment in the Navajo Nation has increased, while access to food has dropped.
Farmers Feeding Utah, a program spearheaded by the UFB, collects donations and uses that money to purchase agricultural products from Utah farmers and ranchers. They then donate those products to communities that need it most-- like the Navajo Nation.
The UFB rounded up 205 ewes from ranchers in Sanpete County, and delivered them to Montezuma Creek in San Juan County.
"They came, one-by-one, and we gave them a lamb, and a bag of flour," said UFB president Ron Gibson, of the Navajo Nation residents.
Each person backed their truck or trailer up to a gate, and volunteer farmers hoisted the sheep.
"They're big! 250 pounds," Gibson said. "And we picked them up and put them in their back of their trucks, and tied their legs up and they took them home."
He joked that it was "a lot of lifting for old farmers," but that it was an awesome experience because it meant so much to the people they served.
"It is a unique gift to the Navajo people," Benally said.
She coordinated Monday's donation, and said Navajo people consider a live sheep one of the greatest gifts someone can give.
That's because the sheep is vital to their community. Benally told of how the sheep sustained their ancestors before and after The Long Walk of the Navajo.
"In such a horrific experience," she said, "it was the sheep that brought back hope and prosperity."
The sacred symbolism sends an important message during this hardship, and Benally relayed that they are grateful.
"When you see tears in the eyes of the Elders and they're smiling with their eyes at you-- you can't do any better than that," she said.
"It was just an awesome experience to see that," Gibson said. "And they were so gracious and so grateful for that lamb."
Monday's donation is the second out of three planned giveaways to the Navajo Nation. Last week, Farmers Feeding Utah gifted residents in Blanding with lamb meat and flour.
On June 1st, Benally said the organization is planning to bring another shipment of lambs to the Mexican Hat/Monument Valley area.
Gibson also said they are planning to launch a new initiative later this week to serve another area in Utah.
Click here to learn more about Farmers Feeding Utah.