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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Downed Trees Donated By Salt Lake Residents Fills Need For Firewood On Navajo Nation

A man and woman load wood into a truck
Kate Groetzinger/ KUER News
Pete Sands, the wood delivery program coordinator, and Cynthie Whitehorse, a volunteer, load wood onto a trailer. They plan to deliver wood through the fall and winter.

Brooke Davis lives in Red Mesa, Utah. She and her husband were students when the pandemic began and they received scholarships to pay their bills. But money’s been tight since she graduated from Diné College in May.

“We don’t have any heating,” Davis said. “We do have electricity and water, but we basically have only enough to pay our bills.”

They heat their house with a wood burning stove. In past years, Davis and her husband have gathered their own wood on public land. But their car broke down this spring and they don’t have enough money to fix it.

A Navajo woman holds her daughter
Kate Groetzinger/ KUER News
Brooke Davis lives in Red Mesa, Utah with her husband and their 3-year-old daughter, Shannon. They rely on a wood burning stove to heat their home in the winter.

So she was grateful when the Utah Navajo Health System dropped off a large pile of wood at her house on Monday. The wood was donated by Salt Lake City residents, who donated nearly 70 semi-trucks’ worth of downed trees to the Urban Indian Center last week following the city’s wind storm.

Todd Savage, chairman of the board of Midvale-based Savage Services, helped organize independent trucking companies to bring some of that wood down to Blanding last week.

Pete Sands runs the health system’s COVID-19 relief program. He started delivering firewood to elders last fall, while working on a documentary film in Montezuma Creek, Utah. He said the pandemic has made the need for firewood even greater, since many young people are now unemployed.

“Not all people can afford what a lot of wood haulers are charging, $150, $300 per load,” Sands said. “Some people need that for food. And we are doing our best to try to help.”

So far, he and his volunteers have delivered wood to a handful of people, and they intend to continue the deliveries throughout the fall. They allow people to apply for assistance online, but they also rely on nurses and chapter officials in Montezuma Creek and Monument Valley to refer them to people who may be struggling.

Davis said the pile of wood her family received from the Utah Navajo Health System will heat their house for one or two months. But she’s unsure what will happen when they run out of wood, since their only car broke down.

“You know, it’s hard asking people for help,” she said through tears. “You don’t realize how hard it is without transportation.”

The Urban Indian Center is not accepting any more wood at this time, but the Utah Navajo Health System is accepting monetary donations.

Corrected: September 24, 2020 at 9:00 AM MDT
This story has been updated to reflect the role Savage Services played in transporting wood to Blanding.
Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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