By Corina Penaia

Outside of Hawaii, Los Angeles County (LAC) is home to more Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) than any other community in the United States. LAC’s NHPI communities are diverse and they include Samoans, Tongans, Native Hawaiians, Chamorros/Guamanians, Fijians, and Marshallese. Many NHPIs live in multigenerational households that form a support network for families that work in front line jobs such as armed forces, hospitality, and health care; many NHPIs are also small business owners. Faith based institutions offer a place for community members to connect, and often serve as a resource for the myriad of human needs such as access to food, health and social services.

SSG/APIFM has been working with the Souther California Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response Team (NHPIs have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, having some of the highest infection and death rates from the disease) in an effort to offer fresh produce to community members through a network of churches and cultural groups. The partnership started in April with one Samoan church serving 30 families and as word of mouth spread we were contacted by more churches and cultural groups; in August we were introduced to Mele Faiva, Secretary of the Tongan Interfaith Group, a network of 13 small churches and began our first food distribution in September. Mele Faiva is a quiet by strong person and a natural community health worker (promotora). She helped mobilize the church community to help with the food distribution and led cooking demonstrations to offer ways to prepare the produce to encourage healthier eating. She shared this note with SSG/APIFM: 

Just to let you know how much we appreciate your effort on continuing to feed our community. A couple of weeks ago we received fresh and wonderful produce which included eggplants, bell peppers, mushrooms, Italian squash, ginger, oranges, and jicama. We fed about a hundred and thirty families on that day. Many people know how to cook these veggies and some people called as asked me how to cook them. Attached is what I sent them, I love teaching our Pacific Islanders on how to cook different dishes including stuffed bell peppers and enjoy them. We are on our way to live long and eat healthy food. -Mele Faiva

Photos from L to R– Top: Unloading the produce boxes; sorting and packing; preparing bags for distribution. Bottom: (dishes cooked by Mele Faiva using items from the produce bag) Fried fish with red onions and egg; eggplant with eggs and ginger; breaded squash.

Another Pacific Islander community SSG/APIFM has developed a partnership with is the Marshallese community. Many Marshallese moved to the United States to escape the lingering radiation levels caused by nuclear tests conduced by the U.S. military which has rendered some of the islands uninhabitable. Research by Colombia University has shown that at several of the Marshall Islands, concentrations of “nuclear isotopes greatly exceed those found near Chernobyl and Fukushima power plants.” Almost 30,000 Marshall Islanders fled their islands for a healthier life in the United States and settled in Arkansas, Washington, Oregon, and California.

Marshallese work in front line jobs including in meat-packing plants, canneries, hotels and restaurants, and have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 across the country. In Los Angeles, the Marshallese community live in multigenerational households, revere their elders and are connected by faith. SSG/APIFM has been delivering fresh produce to the Marshallese community through the Marshallese Ministry. One of the church leaders offers her home as a food distribution site and supplements the SSG/APIFM produce bags with other donations including canned items and personal protective equipment such as face masks and hand sanitizers.

Photos from L to R– Top: Church leader and matriarch K.S leading food access efforts for her community; enlisting family members to help sort and pack; tracking the list of families receiving produce bags. Bottom: An example of produce in SSG/APIFM emergency produce bags.

APIFM’s work with the NHPI community in Los Angeles is made possible with generous support from the Albertsons Companies Foundation’s Nourishing Neighbors Community Relief Fund and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. No one should go hungry. We are grateful to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Albertsons, Vons, and Pavillions for partnering with us to bring fresh produce to the most vulnerable members of our community. Thank you for making our new year a little brighter!