This piece is part of COVID-19 in 2020: A look back on health equity & community resilience in Chinatown-International District. The project was led by Seattle photo-journalist Karen Ducey and former ICHS marketing and communications manager Angela Toda in partnership with International Examiner. The project was funded by Historic South Downtown, King County 4Culture, and Society of Professional Journalists.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, ICHS patients — a majority of whom are low income and people of color — were among the most impacted. Many were neighborhood residents or workers in already precarious situations. They were more likely to have preexisting health conditions that put them at risk. Many faced language and other barriers that left them isolated. And many work in low-paying jobs, often without health insurance. Their burdens were compounded when COVID-19 closed schools and childcare centers. Multigenerational households became crowded with parents, in-laws, and uprooted college students. Socioeconomic disparities threatened to widen long-standing achievement gaps. Overseeing remote learning became an exhausting second occupation for working parents, and especially for working mothers. Yet, in the face of adversity, our communities demonstrated a continuing resilience through strength of solidarity.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines community resilience as the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity. A resilient community is socially connected and has accessible health systems that are able to withstand disaster and foster community recovery. The community can take collective action after an adverse event because it has developed resources that reduce the impact of major disturbances and help protect people’s health. Resilient communities promote individual and community physical, behavioral, and social health to strengthen their communities for daily, as well as extreme, challenges.
Seattle’s Chinatown International-District is a unique community — one of the last true ethnic neighborhoods in the city. The COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian sentiments, and racial riots shook this tight-knit community in 2020. Local nonprofits and young Asian American volunteers banded together to provide food, health, community, and safety. Their collaborative response to the pandemic was a one-of-a-kind effort, not found anywhere else in Seattle.
Refugee Artisan Initiative
Twelve artisans in Refugee Artisan Initiative’s program plus an additional twelve temporary community volunteers sewed 80,000 cloth face masks shipped not only within the CID community, but all over the country including healthcare providers in NYC, postal workers in Michigan and Colorado, and thousands to the Navajo Nation. Unused clean bedsheets were donated by California Design DEN that were 100% cottons with high thread counts, “the best for mask making,” said Refugee Artisan Initiative founder Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman.
Food for Our Seniors
As the nation began efforts to contain COVID-19, the restrictions meant to keep people safe had also left many elders and other vulnerable populations in isolation. Services people relied upon on a day-to-day ba-sis were suddenly inaccessible due to the uncertainty during the heights of the pandemic.
Many seniors were afraid to go outside due to the threat of COVID-19 facing hunger, isolation, and behavioral health issues. Community organizations in the CID and throughout King County adapted quickly by mobilizing efforts to get food and care packages to our AAPI elders and other vulnerable community members.
Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS)
Since the start of the pandemic, Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) helped coordinate the preparation of approximately 2,250 meals and 2,250 bags full of groceries each week, delivered Monday through Friday. The vast majority of meals and bagged groceries went to AAPI elders. Many of them live in the CID; however, King County Access Transportation and various community groups helped deliver to isolated and homebound elders all over King County. Volunteer drivers from over 20 organizations delivered the meals.
Liza Javier, communications manager at ACRS, said: “We wanted to provide healthy meals and groceries to elders during the pandemic while ensuring they could remain safe at home. The effort started in March 2020 and continues to this day. ACRS paid for the majority of food by way of Wismettac Asian Foods, Golden International Corporation, Ba Mien Seafood Market, Restaurant Depot, Smart Food Service, City Produce, Lee’s Fresh Produce, Blossom Vegetarian Restaurant, and International Food Bazaar. Food Lifeline regularly provides donated food, and community members occasionally stop by with donated items. And we have to thank the thousand-plus community members and organizations who raise funds for the food bank during our annual Walk for Rice fundraiser year after year. The ACRS Food Bank is truly powered by the community for the community.”
International Community Health Services (ICHS)
As of April 2021, ICHS has served and delivered over 45,000 meals to seniors during the pandemic. ICHS, through Foodsevice Dept, ordered the ingredients and disposables. ICHS Legacy House kitchen staff did all the cooking and preparation for the meal deliveries. Funding came from the City of Seattle and Tilth. “During this difficult time, a lot of the seniors depended on getting nutritious hot meals, and for some this is their only meal of the day,” said ICHS Healthy Aging and Wellness Program Director Mike Wong. “Many are unable to go to grocery stores and some have lost personal caregiver services due to COVID-19. We try to help our seniors in any way we can.”
Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda)
SCIDpda estimates since early March 2020, they have coordinated volunteers and staff to deliver on average 350 bags of groceries per week to low-income seniors, families with kids, and single households. As of April 2021, SCIDpda has delivered over 20,000 grocery bags and 15,000 meals. Weekly groceries have come primarily from the ACRS Food Bank and senior meals have been provided by ICHS. Additional hot meals have come from ACRS and neighborhood restaurants. A consistent pool of 10-15 volunteer drivers picks up the food at the ACRS building in Rainier Valley and shuttles the grocery bags in their personal vehicles to the CID, where another consistent group of volunteers and SCIDpda property staff help with unloading grocery bags and delivering them door-to-door. At the peak of the summer in 2020, they had over 30 volunteers delivering groceries and meals and an additional 10 staff members assisting with coordination and distribution.
“This effort has been a priority for SCIDpda since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said SCIDpda Director of Property Operations Jared Jonson. “As the pandemic unfolded and people, especially those most vulnerable, such as seniors, were advised to limit their activity outside of their homes in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it just made sense for SCIDpda, per our mission and values, to assist our residents and those in need throughout the CID neighborhood in meeting their basic food needs.”
InterIm CDA delivered between 200 and 900 bags of groceries per day to seniors and families living in low income housing. The groceries were supplied by ACRS Food Bank, Sun Asian Produce, and Uwajimaya. Up to 40 volunteers and staff helped in the effort. “We felt this was important because we knew our community members were struggling because of the pandemic,” said InterIm CDA Equitable Development Policy Analyst Derek Lum. “Seniors were isolated and afraid. Families were losing their income because of the shutdown. Food was harder to buy. So to support everybody we needed to take these actions and help mitigate the hunger and show that somebody does care for these folks.”
Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC)
CISC responded to more than 10,000 requests for assistance with new unemployment applications and weekly claim filings during the pandemic. Their Rapid Response Team provided more than 260 updates in language to community related to COVID-19 response, news, and emergency programs. CISC staff visited senior housing buildings 25 times to assist with interpretation and logistics related to vaccinations.
International District Emergency Center (IDEC)
As an emergency response organization operating in the C-ID for over 50 years, IDEC provided equipment, volunteers and supplies to facilitate other organizations in testing residents for Covid-19. At a time when PPE was difficult to find, IDEC provided 10,000 surgical masks, 24,000 nitrile gloves, 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizers, 200 KN95 masks, 100 face shields, 100 isolation gowns, and 10 no-contact thermometers to seven CID organizations.