By Cindy Foster

Senior Support

UNM OB-GYN Department Donates Food to Navajo Elders

“Through your gift you’ve saved lives. You helped preserve another elder who will pass on stories and teachings. Our story keepers. They are full of knowledge and wisdom.” 

Charmaine Tsosie, president of Chinle Planting Hope, recently wrote to thank the faculty and staff in The University of New Mexico Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology for a fundraiser and food donation to help Navajo Nation seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In her letter, Tsosie wrote, “Truthfully, the words I have are not enough to express my, nor the Chinle Planting Hope team’s gratitude. We are blown away by the tremendous love and compassion shown through your gift! With your support, we've helped grandparents and families across a 50-plus-mile radius on the Navajo Nation.”

Chinle, Ariz., is a rural community of fewer than 5,000 residents near the center of the Navajo Nation. Chinle Planting Hope provides meals and essential food boxes to seniors who lack transportation or have special needs.


The reservation has been a national hotspot several times during the past year as COVID-19 spread across its borders.  The Navajo Nation Department of Health has reported more than 29,283 cases, with more than 1,112 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.  Mandatory daily stay-at-home curfews remain in effect.

There are special challenges for residents fighting the disease in isolated areas of the reservation. By some estimates, 40 percent of rural homes still lack running water for hand washing or adequate electricity.  And, it can be an extended drive to buy groceries – only to find shelves empty of needed food supplies.

“I speak on behalf of my team and my people, from the bottom of my heart, 'Ahéhee’ nitszágo!’” Tsosie wrote. “Translated in English, it means, ’Thank you very big or large,’ but in Navajo it is a phrase heavy with heartfelt thanks.”

The fundraiser was organized by several members of UNM Obstetrics & Gynecology. Alum Paul Drinen, MD, and his wife, Amber, live in Chinle. The couple reached out to another alum, Matt Brennan, MD, his wife, Courtney, and other members in the department.

“Supplies have been hard to find locally given limited amounts and curfew restrictions," says UNM nurse midwife Claire B. Bettler.

“We are all good friends and we wanted to help,” she adds.


“We collected more than $5,000 in about two days,” associate professor Betsy Taylor, MD, says.

Taylor, Bettler and Courtney Brennan then hit grocery stores to purchase shelf-stable necessities.

“We bought lots of protein sources, as well as supplies for fry bread,” Taylor says. “We took gallons of drinking water, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a few sweet things too.”

Taylor’s parents, who live in northwest Oklahoma, drove to Albuquerque towing a trailer to help get supplies to the area. “We started collecting donations on a Friday and delivered a full trailer on the following Wednesday,” she says.

“We had a great time putting all of this together,” Taylor says, “but we couldn’t have done it without the support of so many people throughout the department.”

Chinle-area seniors were grateful for the food donations, Tsosie wrote. “The phrase spoken most often by our receiving elders is, ‘Ahéhéé shan so keí igíí!’ It means, ‘Thank you for thinking of me!’ ‘Thank you for the food, it helps,’” she wrote. “All this work, the shopping, boxing and driving couldn’t have been done without your support.”

Chinle Planting Hope’s long-term goal is to establish a permanent food bank at the local senior center when it reopens. For more information on the organization, visit the Chinle Planting Hope Facebook page. They are also listed as a charity of choice on Amazon Smile.

Categories: Community Engagement, Health, News You Can Use, School of Medicine, Top Stories, Women's Health