Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Food Run To Dilkon

by John Aldrich

This article is part of a series describing the various food runs that the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program conducts to eleven different locations around the Navajo Reservation. These locations are served in groups of two or three sites per trip. The articles will hopefully be of general interest but also serve as an orientation for prospective food run volunteers and for those who have signed up for a particular food run.

The Dilkon food run is part of a set of three, the others being Leupp and Birdsprings. This food run set begins the three week period of food runs that constitute the bulk of our visits to the reservation. In the spring it occurs in late May and in the fall, late September.

Food runs to Dilkon began in the late 1990's when Cyndy Sheldon, sponsor of an Elder at Many Farms, urged Linda to add this location along with Leupp. Cindy lived in Winslow and saw the great need to serve elderly Navajos in the southern part of the reservation. At first these were small scale runs carried out by a just a few dedicated volunteers. Initially the Elders at these locations received food certificates rather than food boxes making these runs much simpler to carry out from a logistical standpoint. But soon Dilkon and Leupp were full-scale food runs with Rainow Boxes, produce, and gift boxes. Ironically, Dilkon returned to its roots in 2012. Although the Elders still receive gift boxes and home-care products, they elected to return to receiving food certificates of comparable value in lieu of the Rainbow sets. They can use these certificates at their local Basha's grocery and choose those food items that they prefer.

Some additional history of the early years of this food run can be found in this blog.

The following map* shows the Navajo Reservation with particular reference to the location of the food run at Dilkon and the lodging base for this run which is Winslow. You can click on the map to see a larger view.
The Dilkon area is unique geologically due to the number of volcanic buttes and cones that dot the landscape. Many of these buttes are revered as holy places by the local people. Dilkon is the seat of a chapter of the same name. The Navajo Times has produced a series of articles chronicling each of the chapters, and you can read more about Dilkon's history and challenges here.
The activities for this food run begin on a Tuesday when we gather in Winslow at the Rodeway Inn. Although hardly a luxury lodging, it is perfectly adequate, and the proprietor, Vic, makes every effort to be accommodating.
After a brief meeting for a preliminary orientation, we travel to the Winslow Visitor Center for our food run ceremony.
This serves to bring us all into one mind and spirit as we prepare for the next three days. This is followed by a meal at the same location, and then we are ready for a good night's rest.

The food runs at Dilkon were initially conducted at the Church Of The Nazarene, but in more recent years the local Mormon meeting house has generously hosted us.
On Wednesday morning we depart from Winslow after a morning meeting at Denny's restaurant which serves as our final orientation to the food run. It's a relatively short drive of 40 miles and the caravan often stops to pick up one of the Elders who waits along the roadside for Linda to stop.

When we arrive, it's time for the group picture.
The Mormon missionaries, who are part of this picture, are often very helpful and participate in the preparations and activities of the day.

The men, who normally have many food boxes to unload and stack, have a relatively easy time here now. For those who are experienced at food runs, this box circle will look quite unusual because of the absence of food boxes and produce. But the gift boxes and home-care products still make for a sizable line.
The biggest task inside is preparing the Program giveaways into a colorful display at the front of the room. Wendy has lots of help with this important job. We want each Elder to feel that they are receiving something special.
As the preparations proceed, Linda tries to find time to greet each of the Elders and inquire about their health and circumstances.
This is also a time that volunteers can visit with the Elders. The Dilkon food run is one of several that has a Navajo Code Talker among its ranks. Many volunteers appreciate the opportunity to meet these unique individuals. Sam Tsosie is always happy to greet the volunteers and willingly signs many books about the critical role these people served during WWII.
From the beginning, the coordinator for this food run has been Eunice Spencer whose service on behalf of her elders is greatly appreciated.
Although we are meeting is a relatively tight space, there still seems to be enough room.
Once the formal portion of the food run program is underway, a big job is handing out all of the food certificates.
Then, when it's time for some fun, Elders are honored for their age, starting with the oldest. Madeline Begay wins a box of Cracker Jacks for being one of the oldest.
The giveaways begin with an opportunity for those Elders who wish to make a donation to the Program or to their sponsor. Cleo Keams almost always has a rug to donate to ANE.
Elders present other crafts as well such as this small loom with a partially completed rug.
All of the volunteers take part in passing out the many Program giveaways. These always include some articles of clothing.
Bundles of yarn are always given to those Elders who are weavers.
This photo shows a small portion of what this Elder has received in her giveaway bag.
After the giveaways a meal is served to everyone. The Mormon meeting house doesn't have a real kitchen, so simple sandwiches are the usual fare.

Once the meal is over the Elders start to depart. Even without food boxes there are still other gift boxes and items to be loaded into their vehicles. With a gift box in hand and his food certificate in his pocket, Virgil Nez is ready to head home.
Some Elders linger behind to display rugs and other crafts for sale. There are always eager shoppers among the volunteers, and their purchases are another way of assisting our Elders.
After the food run is completed and the facility cleaned up, volunteers are free to find their own way back to Winslow. There is still plenty of time to see some of the sights in this historic waypoint along old Route 66.

In the evening we all gather at the Chinese restaurant across the road from our motel.
Everyone has their fill from a tempting buffet, and each food run participant has a chance to share something unique about their experiences of the day.

*This map is adapted from the wonderful Indian Country Map published by the Automobile Club of Southern California. Overlays have been created to show the borders of the Navajo Reservation as well as the food run sites (red) and lodging locations (turquoise) utilized by the food runs. Some of the road information is out of date (the roads to Navajo Mountain and the Big Mountain Food Run sites are now paved. Also, the reservation extends considerably further east into New Mexico than is shown on this map.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you all for the help you give the people. May you be truly blessed.