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‘It was the right time to jump in’: Community group aids Marshallese community hit hard by pandemic

Jeffery Yoshikawa is one of many members of Spokane’s Marshallese community who has contracted COVID-19. A new group has formed to aid people from the Marshall Islands in need.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Jeffery Yoshikawa is one of many members of Spokane’s Marshallese community who has contracted COVID-19. A new group has formed to aid people from the Marshall Islands in need. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It started with the pandemic.

A group of Spokane County residents, mainly representing different Asian countries and cultures, united in May to form an online community called Spokane’s United We Stand.

The group, which is on Facebook, was “born out of the beginning of COVID,” Vina Tran, one of the organizers said.

“We saw how Asian communities were being attacked, and other people were being racist against them, with the rhetoric that surrounded the coronavirus,” she said.

Even President Donald Trump has used this kind of rhetoric, calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and the “kung flu.”

To counteract the racism and the rhetoric, United We Stand initially planned a cultural event that celebrated the many different Asian cultures represented in Spokane County. But with large gatherings likely not possible in the near future, the group recently shifted its priorities to helping people in need .

After learning about the high rates of COVID-19 in Spokane’s Marshallese community, the group decided to see if they could help.

Spokane County’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population currently has 434 cases of the virus, which accounts for 11% of the total, despite the community making up less than 1% of the county population.

Tran said the group came up with the idea of a food drive, in part because food is so central to so many Asian cultures.

While local food banks have amped up their resources for community members, Tran said these types of food boxes would not typically include culturally relevant food. Instead, the United We Stand group is using donations to purchase more familiar food for Marshallese families who need it.

“We kind of tailored the food drive to exactly what kinds of foods these families eat and diets that they revolve around so they can cook and eat at home,” Tran said.

To get the word out, the group developed a survey and enlisted a community member to help translate it into Marshallese, in order to ensure it reached all families in the language they are most comfortable in. The survey was broad and included several areas that families might need help with, whether that be funding for rent, utilities or food.

Organizers are helping connect families to resources for rental and utility assistance in the city or county, if they need it, and if they need food resources, the survey asked how many people are in the household to ensure that they get enough. Additionally, organizers plan to include cleaning supplies, household products and even cloth face coverings in their drive, if families need them.

Next Friday, volunteers will hand out the food and supplies to families at the Northeast Community Center, in a sort of drive-through set up.

Some families with transportation issues will be delivered boxes of resources and food, Tran said.

The organization supporting United We Stand’s efforts is taking donations through an online Facebook fundraiser, with a goal of raising about $5,000 to meet the needs of families outlined in their surveys, Tran said.

“We thought it was the right time to jump in and get to work,” she said.

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