Expanding to Better Serve Our Indigenous Neighbors

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It’s Native American Heritage month, a great time to talk about how Utah Food Bank is expanding our reach to better serve our neighbors who belong to Utah’s indigenous population, located primarily in San Juan County. According to the 2020 Census, 52% of San Juan County residents identify as Native American, while only 2.7% of Utah’s population identifies as such. In southern San Juan County, which makes up the Navajo Nation portion of the county, close to 97% of residents identify as Native American.
San Juan County residents face hunger in drastically higher proportions than our state average, with 19.1% of residents reporting food insecurity, compared to 9.2% statewide. Childhood hunger is even more rampant, with 24.8% of children unsure where their next meal will come from, which is more than double the statewide average.
Because of the difficulty in reaching this area of our state, and the nature of the remote geography, we have only been able to deliver food once a week. And once the food arrives, options are extremely limited for people to receive it. To address this critical need more effectively, expansion plans are underway in San Juan County to add warehouse space and our first foray into Utah Food Bank-run pantries.
Our services will primarily be focused on the Navajo Nation population living within Utah’s boundaries. We have purchased land in Blanding, and building plans for an 18,000-square-foot Southeastern Distribution Center are ready to be submitted for final approval. We are anxious to begin excavation before winter sets in so that construction can proceed over the winter. This facility will consist of warehouse space and a pantry that people can visit for direct services. It will serve our current partner agencies in the area and two additional pantries that Utah Food Bank will operate in the Navajo Nation.
One pantry will be in Montezuma Creek. We have torn down the existing building (formerly a pantry), so we can begin construction, and building plans are almost finalized. This location is ideal because it is directly across the street from the Montezuma Creek Community Health Center, a phenomenal health resource for residents. On a recent site visit, a local wild horse was also visiting the property!
We are negotiating to purchase property in Monument Valley for the second pantry. Getting to this point has been no easy feat, but our staff has worked diligently with various stakeholders to get approval on a piece of land adjacent to Tse’Bii’Nidzisgai Elementary School. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Forrest Gump,” the view from this pantry will be the same one Tom Hanks had in that iconic scene of him running along the highway in the area!
Approximately 4,000 Native Americans in San Juan County lack running water in their homes, and tens of thousands across the Navajo Nation lack electricity. To ensure we meet the specific needs of the people living in the region, Utah Food Bank is committed to distributing culturally specific food that can be safely stored and cooked.
We hope all three exciting projects will be completed by the end of 2023! Look for more information coming soon!