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South Salt Lake Journal

Adopt-A-Native-Elder is committed to the Navajo Nation

Dec 04, 2022 11:09AM ● By Peri Kinder

By Peri Kinder | [email protected]

Covering 27,000 square miles, the Navajo Nation is home to more than 170,000 people identified as Navajo or Native American. It’s the largest Native American reservation in the country, with land in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

The Navajo Nation is one of the few places in the country where indigenous people can live on their homeland and speak their native language, but poverty and need is rampant. Since the 1980s, Adopt-A-Native-Elder has provided essentials to the older generation of Navajos.

“I started as a volunteer,” said C.J. Robb, now assistant director of Adopt-A-Native-Elder. “What I thought was so interesting is that you don’t realize the level of need so close to where we live here in Salt Lake City. It’s an eight-hour drive to the reservation but you’re really in a sovereign country completely surrounded by the United States and people are living in Third World conditions.”

The nonprofit serves more than 1,000 Navajo elders over the age of 75 by providing food, fabric, firewood and basic supplies. The elders on the reservation don’t want to relocate to nursing homes where the staff can’t speak the language and Navajo traditions aren’t observed, so Adopt-A-Native-Elder gives them what they need, allowing them to stay on their land.

Robb said they’ve donated more than 840,000 pounds of food, mobility equipment and clothing over the past couple of years with 344 volunteers taking part in food runs to distribute supplies to the elders. While most recipients live where they can receive physical assistance, hundreds more are living in areas so remote they can’t be physically supported. These elders are mailed food and firewood vouchers.

“In order for them to age in place, in a traditional way like their elders and families have done, they really need support in the form of food and medical supplies and everyday necessities,” Robb said. “There’s not a system of elder care in place on the reservation for these traditional people. Part of that is because the elders live so remotely, they’ve never left the reservation. They speak only Navajo, they dress traditionally and practice traditional ceremonies.”

On Tuesdays and Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., volunteers can help pack food boxes at Adopt-A-Native-Elder (328 W. Gregson Ave.) in South Salt Lake. Food packages are intended to be gifts, not handouts, so volunteers wrap boxes to be given away.

For the holidays, all the elders in the program will receive a $100 food certificate to Bashas’, a grocery store on the reservation. Additionally, $200 firewood vouchers will be sent to elders for heating and cooking. These donations total more than $300,000. 

There are several options to support the Navajo Nation through the nonprofit. The Adopt-A-Native-Elder program is $300 annually, which gives the elder a food box twice a year. People can donate money for yarn, firewood, food runs, children’s needs and the general fund which covers elders who have not been adopted. Volunteers are also needed to donate time to deliver boxes to the reservation.

Adopt-A-Native-Elder hosts an online platform for Navajo artists to sell traditional rugs and jewelry, and provides fabric for elders to sew traditional skirts and shirts. For more information, visit

“This is the last generation of traditional Navajo people left,” Robb said. “Part of the program is showing that there are people in our society willing to help without conditions. We go down there and just try to connect the cultures and share with all these traditional people and honor their culture and lifestyle.”