The pandemic canceled a popular annual Christmas market in Salt Lake City this year, but organizers turned the loss into a drive to help one of the most deeply affected populations in the United States, the Navajo Nation.
Christkindlmarkt SLC, inspired by centuries of Christ child markets held in December throughout Germany, annually draws more than 100,000 people to This Is the Place Heritage Park, the place marking Brigham Young’s view of the Salt Lake Valley.
“Although we are not able to host our cherished community Christmas market this year due to the pandemic, we are determined to carry out the mission of the market — to put the kind in Christkindlmarkt,” market founder Allyson Chard said in a news release.
The market partnered with Latter-day Saint Charities and Navajo Strong to create the St. Martin’s Project, which collected nearly 800 COVID-19 kits and 700 education backpacks to donate to Navajo families in Arizona and New Mexico.
Navajo Strong was founded in 2020 to respond to the pandemic in the Navajo community.
“To date, we’ve served over 800 families on the reservation,” Navajo Strong project coordinator Melissa Pickering said in a statement.
Donation events were held in Bountiful and Draper and at This Is the Place Heritage Park, where people dropped off food, clothes, backpacks and other essential and education items.
Latter-day Saint Charities, the charitable arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is donating transportation of all the items to Blanding, Utah, where they will be organized, cleaned and sanitized for distribution.
The church is also providing a semitruck full of bottled water, a pallet jack, 500 boxes, 18 pallets, shrink wrap and tape.
Church service missionaries will help deliver the donations to Navajo residents.
“There is very limited medical care on the reservation, which means a lot of people have to convalesce around all of their families,” said Elder Todd S. Larkin, an Area Seventy for the church’s North America Southwest Area in a church news release. “As a result, about one in eight people now on the reservation have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s the highest level in North America — percentage of the population.”
Christkindlmarkt SLC is a nonprofit organization. Its street market celebrations annually honor St. Martin, revered for cutting his cloak in half to share warmth with a beggar.
The market’s steering committee includes Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, wife of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Their daughter, Antje Uchtdorf Evans, is an executive board member of Christkindlmarkt SLC.
The two women helped pack the donated items into boxes on Tuesday.
“It is such a special year for us. It started out being so sad because we had to cancel Christkindlmarkt, and now it’s turned into something of happiness,” Evans said in the release.
She said Sister Uchtdorf suggested supporting the Navajo Nation.
“We have a good relationship with the Native Americans,” Sister Uchtdorf said in the release. “My husband and I, because of our church traveling, we often went to those places and visited the Navajos. ... They’re just wonderful.”
Hundreds of people donated items, said Chard, the market’s founder. She said the effort is helping everyone involved:
“I’m a better person because I’m a part of this, and I’m hoping that as people receive these backpacks or these COVID kits that they’ll realize that there is someone that lives a few hours away that really cares.”