an 18-wheel truck bed is loaded with firewood and is parked next to a large pile of more firewood

Operation Firewood Rescue

After hurricane-force winds toppled hundreds of trees throughout the Wasatch Front on Sept. 8, 2020, two University of Utah staff members had an idea. Donna Eldridge in the School of Medicine Office of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Samantha Eldridge in the University of Utah Student Development and Inclusion office thought of a way they could help Native American elders prepare for winter.

Utah’s Tribal Nations have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and have been unable to gather firewood due to strict health guidelines and stay-at-home orders. Many elders use firewood to heat their homes during the winter months to help alleviate the high cost of heating. Many families living in remote areas on the reservation also rely on firewood for cooking.

Donna Eldridge and Samantha Eldridge organized a weeklong community donation drive for firewood from downed trees. They recruited volunteers from the U’s School of Medicine Office of Health, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and coordinated with the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake (UICSL) to collect firewood dropped off from the community. The Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) then joined in to donate the wood to their "Warming Hogans" Firewood Program.

Volunteers worked all week, Sept. 10-17, unloading and chopping wood to be firewood ready. On the final day, a call went out to trucking companies to help pick up and transport firewood that was collected and deliver to Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) in Blanding, Utah.

Savage Services answered the call deemed “Operation Firewood Rescue” and organized truckers from across the state to help pick up loads of firewood. Overall, a total of 10 semi-trucks, several with double trailers, filled their trailers with donated wood.

The firewood arrived at UNHS in Blanding, Utah on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. UNHS immediately began delivering firewood to Native American elders in need.

“Most families on the Navajo reservation burn wood to heat their homes,” said Donna Eldridge. “A truckload of wood can cost a family up to $400. We anticipate this winter to be especially difficult for families unable to collect their own wood due to stay-at-home orders. We hope this donation will alleviate the burden for elders while also keeping them warm this winter.”

Partners included the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake, Utah Navajo Health System, Esther’s Garden, University of Utah School of Medicine Office of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Utah Department of Public Safety, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and countless volunteers.