April 23, 2020: A resident in the Bing Kung building, a single room occupancy structure in the CID, peers out from his door into the hallway. Rachtha Danh, from the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), is delivering masks to residents with help from the building manager. Each bag contains three masks that were hand-made and donated. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

April 14, 2020: Teresita Batayola (right), President and CEO of ICHS, and Ian Munar, ICHS Strategic Initiatives Administrator (left) participate on a conference call with 14 other community leaders in Seattle. The teleconference brought various community groups together to collaborate on the Chinatown-International District response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

April 21, 2020: Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman, founder of the Refugee Artisan Initiative, works at her shop fulfilling orders in Seattle. On this day, 500 masks were made by independent sewers to be delivered to seniors in the community. The shop employs refugee women from Vietnam, Ethiopia, China, Myanmar, and Morocco. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

May 30, 2020: The Asian Counseling and Referral Service gymnasium is transformed into an area where staff and volunteers pack bags of groceries to be distributed to seniors throughout King County. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

May 7, 2020: Volunteers Niharika “Nikki” Advani (left) and Sauwan Chin (right) prepare chicken Udon noodle soup at ACRS. Food and groceries were prepared to distribute throughout the CID and King County. On this day, 440 noodle soups were prepared and 280 bags of groceries were prepared. Volunteers and staff from SCIDpda picked them up and delivered them. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

May 29, 2020: Chef Gustavo “Panda” Pineda prepares chicken udon noodle soup in Seattle, Washington. Pineda had been laid off from his job due government mandates closing all restaurants for dining to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Now he has volunteered everyday at ACRS for the past three months. On this day he will make six big woks of soup. Koway Ko, who works with Panda in the kitchen, explains why they volunteer: “I think it’s important for someone to just try to be the light in the dark. I think that’s what the world’s missing. If we all stand together, we’re so powerful. And it’s awesome.” (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.”

June 4, 2020: Dr. Lisa Chan from International Community Health Services explains the directions on a bottle of Vitamin C to Guofu Cao, one of her patients, outside the Kong Yick building. Weekly, Chan brought bags of groceries to some of her patients on her day off as a way of checking up on them. Storefronts all over Seattle were boarded up after riots broke out over the death of George Floyd while in the custody of a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.”

April 21, 2020: Culturally appropriate food is prepared at ICHS Legacy House for seniors living in apartments in the CID who were facing hunger and isolation. ICHS collaborated with many other community based organizations at the start of the COV-ID-19 pandemic and through the summer to provide food. Other organizations also provided groceries. Many restaurants in CID also provided hot meals. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

May 21, 2020: Volunteers from SCIDpda deliver meals to residents in the CID. On Tuesdays and Fridays around lunchtime, wagons filled with groceries and hot meals can be seen pulled by volunteers to deliver food to those fearful of leaving their homes during the pandemic. SCIDpda purchased 10 wagons for this purpose. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

“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.”

May 7, 2020: Volunteers and staff from SCIDpda stop on Maynard Avenue in the CID to distribute food and groceries to residents. (Photo by Karen Ducey)
April 24, 2020: Pok Yip, SCIDpda maintenance staff, brings hot meals prepared by ICHS to elderly residents of the Bush Hotel building in the CID. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

InterIm CDA

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.”


May 28, 2020: Vincent Kwan, interim program manager at InterIm CDA, speaks with Mei Lee Fong, an 89-year-old resident at the International House in the CID. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, InterIm CDA has been distributing free groceries donated by ACRS to people who have been afraid to go out because of racial profiling and fears of contracting COVID-19. “It’s called disaster gentrification,” Kwan said. “An already vulnerable neighborhood having the impacts of COVID is already accelerating the gentrification that’s already happening. So, we’re very concerned about that. This community is meant for people that have been marginalized, have been pushed away from white neighborhoods historically. And they found refuge here. How do we protect a historical land-mark and also a historical place for folks that call it home?” (Photo by Karen Ducey)
May 28, 2020: InterIm CDA volunteer Carmen Hom, carries groceries donated by ARCS up a long flight of stairs in the Kong Yick building to people who need it in the CID. Hom heard about the community volunteer effort from social media and has been doing it for weeks. “I think its really cool how neighbors are helping neighbors,” she said. The grocery bags were full of fresh food including bok choi, ramen noodles, broccoli water, mashed potatoes, and zucchini. (Photo by Karen Ducey)
May 28, 2020: 71-year-old Yan Nong Cui, receives a bag of groceries delivered by volunteers from InterIm CDA to her home in the Kong Yick building in the Chinatown-International District. Cui says there is no internet service in the building. The only way for her to get any news is from her cell phone. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

September 2, 2020: Lisa Wong, a supervisor at Tom Bihn, Inc. in Seattle, makes non-medical face masks. Tom Bihn, Inc. usually produces backpacks and travel bags but started making masks at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Making reusable masks was a good solution to keep their employees working and help the company break even. Tom Bihn Inc. is located in the SoDo District where Seattle’s garment industry was historically located. Many people, mostly women, from the CID made up this workforce. Today Tom Bihn’s workforce is very diverse. Almost half are people of Chinese descent. According to their website, the Tom Bihn company designed and made over one million non-medical face masks, donating over 200,000 masks to elder communities, tribal nations, and food banks. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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.

July 20, 2020: Chinatown-International District Night Watch volunteers pose for a photo at Hing Hay Park. Matthew Toles, 26, started the night watch patrols to address long-standing problems in the wake of the George Floyd protests. “The events of June 1 were more of a catalyst than a motivation,” Toles said. “They were what got the community together and what made it very apparent that nobody was going to take care of us and that we have to do it ourselves.” (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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