For some people, the holiday season brings thoughts of a warm house, family, celebrations and feasts. But for many others, the holidays are a time of high electric bills, freezing cold temperatures, scarce food,and missing family and loved ones far away.
And for others, the holidays bring them to a waiting line of over 300 people at 8 a.m. to a mix of seniors practicing tai chi, a group of homeless friends catching up, families with children, and the chatter of over five different languages being spoken around them.
At 9:30 a.m., the doors finally open to the Rainier Valley Food Bank open and after waiting their turn, families are be able to fill a grocery bag with vegetables, fruit, grains and possibly special food for the holidays to bring back home.
With over 50 food banks across King County, this is the reality of the holiday season for thousands of people across the county.
The Rainier Valley Food Bank (RVFB) has been serving one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation, 98118, on Rainier Avenue since 1991.
On the two days of the week that they distribute to the public — Wednesdays and Saturdays — the food bank will normally see 350 to 400 families come through on an average day in the year. But during the holidays, RVFB prepares for 600 to 700 people, keeping their food bank open for an extra four hours until the last person gets through.
“People want to have a big feast for the holidays, but I looked for turkeys myself last Thanksgiving and I was shocked. It’s really expensive,” said Sam Osbourne, the Executive Director of RVFB. “There’s more money going towards the kids, and there’s more money going toward your gas bill or electric bill for heat in the winter time. And those are not cheap anymore.”
With money going towards expenses, gifts, transportation and more, people may sacrifice nutrition and food, which is bad for seniors and children, according to Gary Tang, Program Director for Aging and Adult Services at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS).
Although Thanksgiving and the December holidays are not as widely celebrated in immigrant or Asian Pacific Islander communities, ACRS Food Bank also has a large surge of donations, volunteer efforts and people coming in for food during the winter time.
“A lot of people may not religiously celebrate the holidays but in this country, it’s such a commercial thing,” said Karen Jackel, food bank coordinator at ACRS. “They know during holidays there’s always different kinds of special foods and things that make you feel like the holidays is a happy season.”
The ACRS Food Bank has been opensince 1981 and prides itself in having culturally-appropriate foods for API diets. Located in the International District, the food bank serves over 5,000 people across King County, particularly East Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander seniors.
ACRS’ annual Walk for Rice fundraiser collects money throughout the year to purchase rice, the most needed staple among API communities. The food bank also distributes ramen and tofu, canned fish, soy sauce, ramen, yakisoba and other Asian foods.
Seeing a familiar face, hearing a familiar language or seeing a food one recognizes or knows how to cook creates a more comforting experience, according to Miguel Saldin, Senior Nutrition and Information Manager at ACRS.
But comfort does not stop at food, and food banks are aware of that.
The RVFB often partners with othe nonprofit social service groups such as Within Reach or Bridge to Basics to set up a table outside next to food bank lines. This is an opportunity to inform people of other services benefits to make life easier in navigating education, transportation, utilities, cell phones and more.
“We want to make sure the food guests are supported in other areas of their lives that impact them needing food assistance in the first place,” said Elise Cope, Community Engagement Coordinator at RVFB. “Maybe it’s just that if they got help with their utilities or something, they wouldn’t need to come to the food bank.”
ACRS also has a wide range of services; with case managers connecting homebound or isolated individuals with different programs and services, like a meal program, classess and events at ACRS’s Activity Center.
“For some, they may be homesick for their home country,” said Tang. “They still have family members who live in the home country, and many of them came [the the states] as an immigrant or refugee. For elders who are isolated, if they don’t have activities to engage in, then they will definitely feel a sense of gloom.”
To help, ACRS throws a number of holiday parties for clients to attend. Volunteers, staff and community members are also invited to gather for a special event.
“Maybe some folks will be at home by themselves or they’re not celebrating the holidays,” said Saldin. “But this gives them the opportunity.”
With a number of parties in different departments, ACRS brings big groups together and celebrate through dancing, eating together, or playing games.
In tough times of isolation, rising prices of food and wages are not rising to match the cost of living, the image of a warm home, family celebrations and feasts has become less and less conventional. But with services around the city, the need for food, health, joy and friends can be helped, whether it’s with one’s own family, or the 300 strangers waiting in line with them.