Students at a local private high school got a harsh lesson in poverty as they delivered Christmas to a Navajo reservation over the weekend.
Liahona Preparatory Academy students traveled to Chinle, Ariz., to deliver 100 farmyard animals along with food, blankets, clothes and gifts. The poverty they found was startling, all the more because it was in the United States.
The students volunteered as part of an effort by Heber City-based nonprofit Hearts With Thunder. More than 80 of the area's neediest families were selected by officials of the government's food stamps program.
"They don't have very much," 15-year-old Cortney Millecam of Highland said.
Students witnessed families living without electricity or indoor plumbing and in traditional homes made of sticks and mud. Some had no running water. Sometimes three or four families shared a trailer.
Chickens, goats, sheep and pigs were some of the donated gifts the students brought. The animals will be bred to provide some income. The Native Americans also were given snow shovels, hatchets, clothes, coats, shoes, books, school supplies, hygiene kits and food. The children met Santa Claus. All of the donations were from local families and Liahona students.
"I got a deeper appreciation for what I have now, but it also gave me a sense of wanting to help them," Liahona senior Mitchell Free, 17, of Highland said. "This is what people in America are going through. They live in these hogans because they have nothing else. It was very touching. I was moved to see people living like this. It makes me want to go out and make a difference."
"Really I didn't expect the people would be as grateful as they were," Millecam said. "You could just see on their faces. When the little children got books, their eyes just widened. The children made it all worth it."
About two dozen students made the trip with parents and school staff. The trip was part of Liahona's yearlong theme of service, school officials said. In previous years, the students have volunteered in Mexico, but because travel conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous in Mexico, the school looked for opportunities to help closer to home.
Liahona Preparatory Academy is a private, LDS-based K-12 school in Pleasant Grove. For information, visit liahona-homeschooling.com.