Utah Food Bank is expanding in San Juan County and has announced the opening of two new pantries that will help support residents of the Navajo Nation.

President and CEO Ginette Bott said despite the food bank serving San Juan County for about 30 years, it had been a challenge to meet the level of need in the area.

She said the Navajo Nation is considered a food desert, with an average driving time to food resources taking up to several hours, one-way. The new pantries will help enhance food accessibility.

“While there are a couple of small pantries in the area of San Juan County in different locations, they still weren’t big enough, or still couldn’t be opened every single day,” said Bott. “People here will have to drive to Cortez or to Moab, it’s not like you can jump in your car and run a couple of blocks and grab a gallon of milk.”

Bott said the Montezuma Creek Food Pantry should be open in the next few days, while the Monument Valley Food Pantry will need a bit more time to tie up some loose ends before opening.

In partnership with St. George-based software company TCN, the Food Bank of Utah was able to provide 91,350 meals at Christmas time over the past two years, St. George, Utah, Dec. 20, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold

San Juan County residents face significantly higher rates of hunger compared with the rest of the Beehive State.

Seventeen percent of residents report food insecurity, compared with 10% statewide, according to Utah Food Bank.

While the pantries will help in addressing food needs, Bott said they’ll also help provide needed job opportunities that help ensure that the pantries’ operating hours remain regular and reliable.

She noted it is important to make sure those being served feel seen and heard.

“We want to be sure that we are respectful of all things that are important to the folks that we are going to be serving,” said Bott, “and we want people to realize we are not coming in here to make a change, we are only coming in here to enhance them and their lives.”

In order to address the specific needs of those who live in the region, Bott added, the pantries have had to learn more about the Navajo diet and preferences, while also aiming to increase available fresh produce and help mitigate the impacts of prevalent health conditions such as diabetes through diet.

Written by ALEX GONZALEZ, producer for Public News Service. Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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