Running with rainbow boxes |

Running with rainbow boxes

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

Kathy Wilde volunteered for her first food run with Adopt-A-Native-Elder in the spring of 2009. She came back with new insight about life on the Navajo Reservation, renewed passion for the spirit of service, and a 77-year-old adopted Elder.

Adopt-A-Native-Elder, a Park City-based nonprofit, organizes deliveries to 11 sites on the Navajo Reservation each spring and fall. Volunteers drive food and supplies to the reservation and have the opportunity to personally interact with the Elders.

This year, food runs are scheduled through mid-October. According to development director Mary Phillips, Adopt-A-Native-Elder is seeking at least 30 volunteers to help with trips scheduled for Oct. 5-9 (serving the areas of Many Farms, Tsaile and Pinon) and Oct. 10-14 (serving Sanders, Teesto and Big Mountain).

Volunteers provide their own transportation to the reservation and pay for gas, lodging and food. The driving time to different sites is approximately 10 hours and drivers need a truck, trailer or SUV.

Wilde, a Park City resident who works as a nurse, plans to make her fourth trip to the reservation this fall. "Seeing how much the Elders appreciate what you do for them" makes it worth the trip, she says.

Volunteers travel to the region separately but stay in the same hotel. The night before the deliveries, they are invited to take part in a traditional ceremony led by a Navajo leader.

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On the days of the actual food runs, locals help unload the trucks and volunteers hand out "rainbow boxes," which contain allotments of food including canned goods, protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, coffee and kitchen staples.

The goal is to provide each Elder with enough food to last through the winter, when roads can be closed for weeks at a time. The volunteers also hand out medical supplies, household items, and clothing and linens.

The delivery days are a special time for the Elders, Phillips says. "Food runs are huge for the Elders because most of them live remotely and it’s the one time they get together to see their friends and families," she explains.

Wilde says that considering the amount of food and the number of Elders, the process is extremely well organized. Each Elder receives exactly what they need in a timely manner, she says.

Traveling to the reservation gives Wilde a chance to visit her adopted Elder and bring him a few extra items. When asked why she chose to adopt an Elder, she replies, "I don’t really know, maybe it was the spark in his eye."

Volunteering has proved to be a rewarding experience, she says. "I feel like we have so much up here and I don’t think people realize what it’s like [on the reservation]. They basically live off the land."

To ensure that the Elders receive food and supplies this fall, Adopt-A-Native-Elder desperately needs the support of local volunteers, Phillips says. Those interested in helping with food runs can download a driver’s application at or call (801) 474-0535.