Food aid for Asian Americans expands to fight hidden hunger during pandemic
In the San Francisco area, Self-Help for the Elderly delivered nearly 5,000 meals each day during the height of the pandemic last spring. The association, which works mainly with Asian seniors, still serves around 2,400 meals a day.
Food insecurity has long been a problem in Asian American communities, “but it was almost impossible to convince one of the leading hunger relief organizations that this was real and urgent,” Nguyen said.
Contrary to the common misconception of the wealth and success of Asian Americans, poverty among Asian Americans in the United States is high. In New York City, for example, 1 in 4 Asians live in poverty and half have limited English, according to the Asian American Federation (AAF). In Boston, meanwhile, poverty among Asians was nearly 26.6 percent compared to 23 percent among the city’s black population, according to a 2014 report from the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
“Poverty statistics in Asia make people gasp. There is a myth about wealthy Asian Americans that really blocks our community, ”said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of AAF New York.
In New York City, unemployment among Asians soared to 25% last year – the largest increase among any racial group, according to an AAF report released last fall. In California, 83% of Asian Americans with a high school diploma or less have filed for unemployment, compared to 37% of non-Asians, according to a report by UCLA researchers last July. .
Six of AAF’s nonprofit partners increased their existing senior food programs so that last year they distributed food more than 19,000 times to 2,800 Asian seniors.
Lisette Le, executive director of VietAid, also pointed out that children who qualify for the free school lunch also have fewer options to eat as long as schools remain closed.
In addition to distributing groceries, VietAid, whose food program is funded by the City of Boston and other sources, serves take-out meals to more than 125 families each day with its partner Boston YWCA. At the start of the pandemic, VietAid was delivering food to 125 elderly people every week.
Last year, VietAid also partnered with the Boston nonprofit Chinese Progressive Association and other groups to hire 78 community members to prepare and distribute meals.
Even Asian community organizations that previously did not work on hunger relief have now turned to food aid due to an urgent demand. Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), a San Francisco nonprofit that normally works on political issues, such as immigration and education, now offers food assistance. During the pandemic, the group provided food assistance to around 750 people.
“Food, shelter and work are the main concerns,” said Annette Wong, CAA director of programs. She remembered a Chinese man who called CAA in tears, frustrated after standing in line for hours in a pantry.
The Cantonese speaker “was at the end of his rope. Some people are in dire straits and dire straits, ”Wong said.
But it is not known how long the program will last. CAA’s food aid funding, which comes from the city’s Give2SF online donation program, will end soon.
An important advantage of local community organizations that do this work is that they can overcome language barriers which are a major obstacle to getting help and can help navigate the bureaucracy which is frustrating even for native English speakers. Seamaac, for example, works with people who speak 22 languages and dialects. Overcoming cultural barriers like shame – common in Asian cultures – is another challenge.
But community organizations often lack resources and are overburdened. Last year, the Chinese Progressive Association in Boston was inundated with more than 4,000 appeals for help with unemployment insurance, housing and workers’ rights, and stimulus funds. This is a 500% increase in calls compared to 2019, according to the association.
The Greater Boston Legal Department does not normally process individual unemployment insurance claims. But the legal aid nonprofit, which has an outreach unit in Asia, shifted resources and helped clients with around 1,000 jobless claims last year.