Overcoming Cultural Barriers During the Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the most vulnerable communities in the Puget Sound region, especially Black, Indigenous and other people of color. For some immigrant and refugee families, however, the crisis has presented additional barriers that have exacerbated their situation.
Ariana Anjaz, senior director and co-founder of the Afghan Health Initiative, said the community her organization serves has seen a dramatic increase in food insecurity since the pandemic began. Her organization helps immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan and other neighboring countries navigate systems in a new country and provides them with available resources so they become self-sufficient.
Because of the exponential growth in community needs, Anjaz said the Afghan Health Initiative recently applied for and received funding from the City of Seattle’s Community Food Fund to help families struggling with food insecurity.
This $1-million initiative is a partnership between the City and United Way of King County. The program supports Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC), as well as immigrant and refugee communities. The funding comes from federal CARES Act money and from United Way’s Community Relief Fund.
Anjaz said before AHI received those funds, her organization was able to supply produce and staple grains like basmati rice and lentils. With the Community Food Fund, they are now able to provide a wider variety of food, including halal meats, so clients can follow Islamic dietary laws.
According to Anjaz, many people in the community feel discouraged about their economic situation. For some, being their family’s breadwinner is deeply ingrained in their culture, so they don’t want to rely on assistance. For others, there was no choice but to ask for help.
Anjaz recounted the story of an Afghan father with a family of eight who was working as a ride-share driver before the pandemic. He lost his income when business dried up due to the economic shutdown.
“He was the breadwinner, the father figure of the family. He was the only one working,” said Anjaz.
He was forced to ration the little food the family had, Anjaz said, so he went to the Afghan Health Initiative to ask for help.
“He told us, ‘This help is not something that I would ever have expected to have to receive in the United States,’” said Anjaz. “Being an immigrant and refugee from Afghanistan, he thought that he left behind his days of food insecurity, of hunger, of not being able to provide for his family.”
The family is now getting regular food provisions, and he has stopped rationing the food for his children, according to Anjaz. They no longer have to worry about experiencing hunger.
“It was very difficult for him to experience that [hunger] once again, here, in the United States,” Anjaz said.
Anjaz said her organization is providing food for about 350 households per week. Before the pandemic, it was helping only about 10 families per week. So far, she said, it has supplied nearly 160,000 pounds of food.
Anjaz said that because of language barriers, others in the immigrant and refugee community thought they weren’t eligible for unemployment assistance. They couldn’t call state agencies because they couldn’t get a hold of anyone who spoke their language.
“It’s very difficult to navigate any type of unemployment assistance program when you can’t apply online,” Anjaz said. “The [Community Food] Fund has helped all of those individuals who had that increased need and lack of income.”
Anjaz said she is again seeing an uptick in need because of the new lockdowns called by the state because of the increase in COVID-19 cases.