COVID-19Diversity Equity and Inclusion

Providing Culturally Relevant Food to Our Communities

By January 20, 2021June 25th, 2021No Comments

As a member of Feeding America’s national network of food banks, Food Lifeline applied and was awarded a generous amount from the Feeding America Covid-19 Relief Phase 3 Grant. We are using the grant to increase access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food for tribal communities, farmworkers, and immigrant and refugee communities experiencing food insecurity. Current grant partners include Bellingham Food Bank, Lummi Nation Food Bank, Mercy Housing Northwest, and Tri-Parish Food Bank. 

The Covid-19 Relief Grant expands the capacity and sustainability of existing partnerships and programs currently supporting farmworkers and indigenous people in two high-need counties of our service area (Whatcom and Skagit). Additionally, we are also working to improve and expand our Covid-19 response emergency mobile food distributions by increasing access to more culturally appropriate foods. Ultimately, this work will inform how Food Lifeline will expand our capacity to provide more culturally relevant food and equitable programming across our entire agency network.

We are now more than halfway through the 9-month Feeding America Covid-19 Phase 3 Relief Grant and we wanted to share a few highlights from the first half of the grant. 

  • We hired our first community-based staff position, a Food Access Specialist based in Skagit and Whatcom Counties. Eber Rivera works with local seasonal farmworker, immigrant, and refugee communities to understand how they are impacted by hunger.  
  • Bellingham Food Bank and Tri-Parish Food Bank are each purchasing a new refrigerated truck. 
  • Grant partners have purchased culturally appropriate foods for their communities.  

Coho and sockeye are scarce right now, so it was good to be able to give out that fish.

Ray James, Commod Squad Assistant Manager, Lummi Nation Food BankLummi Nation Food Bank purchased salmon for the community.

We have been able to support small BIPOC owned businesses in Whatcom County, Snohomish County and South King counties such as Mi Rancho, Intercontinental Foods, La Gloria, Imran's Market, Gambian Store, European Food Store and DK market. There are been car loads of food purchased weekly from these vendors. Sometimes there are multiple car loads!

Vy Le, Resident Services Manager, Mercy Housing NorthwestA wide variety of foods was purchased for Hispanic/Latinx, Asian, Indian, East African, Middle Eastern, Slavic, Arabic/Egyptian residents at Mercy Housing properties.

The very first day we handed out cultural food items, a resident came up to me and asked me “son para nosotros” (if the items displayed were for them). I smiled and said of course, they were in disbelief. Also, another time, we were handing out halal chicken and one of our residents was in disbelief, so they asked us to show them, when we did, they smiled and said yes yes! It is truly a rewarding experience to be able to provide families with their everyday food items, especially right now during Covid-19.

Crystal Morales, Resident Services Coordinator, Mercy Housing Appian Way

This was a really great gift. It really made me feel like I am a valuable member of the community. I also felt that my culture was really involved in the festivities in our community. There was so much smile on my face when I opened the box.

Ghanaian resident at Mercy Housing Lincoln Way

Starting the food pantry at Sterling Meadows has allowed us to be able to cater to the specific wants/needs of the residents.

Lindsey Karas, Resident Services Manager, Mercy Housing NorthwestMercy Housing set up a food pantry at Sterling Meadows farmworker housing in Bellingham, with support from this grant and the Bellingham Food Bank.

The new truck has been such a blessing, and our volunteers were so happy to give out the cultural food to our clients. We have many volunteers who are from Oaxaca and are very happy to be able to speak in their native language when offering other native speakers food.

Lilia Ortiz and Bonnie Baker, Directors, Tri-Parish Food Bank

The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe caught and donated 15,000 lb of coho salmon to the food bank, and we were able to use some of our grant funds to get the fish processed locally. We plan to give fillets or whole fish to all the Native American communities in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Mike Cohen, Executive Director, Bellingham Food Bank

The Covid-19 crisis has also dramatically reinforced what we already knew to be true: that food insecurity in Western Washington is stratified across racial lines. Despite only being 13% of the population, the Latinx population now makes up the majority of Covid-19 cases in Washington State. The landscape of food insecurity in Western Washington is rapidly shifting as the Covid-19 crisis continues to impact people’s livelihoods and we know that the jobs most vulnerable during the crisis are disproportionately held by people of color. For example, immigrant workers are overrepresented in industries with distressingly high rates of Covid-19 infection—particularly in agriculture.  

To mediate and resolve this catastrophe will take a concerted joint effort across many stakeholders in our network. As such, Food Lifeline recognizes that all efforts to address food insecurity and poverty should also seek to dismantle racism and discrimination. For these reasons, and in alignment with Food Lifeline’s strategic plan and overlapping Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals, we are using this funding to increase access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food for immigrants, migrant farmworkers, and tribal communities in Western Washington.