Each Monday morning our Food Pantry for Immigrant Families serves upwards of 200 families. We welcome the long line of Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipina/o, Latina/o and other ethnic groups, offering them food assistance and other support services.
Recognizing the diverse populations we serve, the Food Pantry aims to create a cross-cultural understanding among our clients. In this way, we hope to nurture a sense of mutual support and community development. The two largest groups we see are Chinese and Latina/o. Among these groups in particular, the Food Pantry has seen a number of conflicts that stem from cultural misconceptions, or general lack of understanding. This has resulted in resentment, prejudice, bias, and even fighting. To address this issue, we hosted a Cultural Awareness workshop for many of the volunteers at the Food Pantry who are also clients.
Sponsored by NICOS Chinese Health Coalition, a San Francisco coalition of health care organizations that works to enhance the health and well-being of the SF Chinese, the workshop was facilitated in three languages and participants were challenged to look beyond the surface to relate to one another despite language and cultural differences. Clients engaged in discussion about the dynamics of power & authority, service & community and culture & humility, led by Ina Moon.
One of the activities was a role play, where two volunteers had to work together without words. One person had a bag with various objects, the other was trying to get a specific object from the bag. Somehow, they had to try to understand each other, which became rather difficult. After, they realized that this may be the reality for many of the Food Pantry clients, where language barriers can create misunderstanding and tension. Another activity, called “What’s the Right Way,” brought attention to each individual’s own upbringing, and how their immediate surroundings, including family, friends and community, contributed to their perspectives and demeanor today.
After the workshop, the volunteers were much more comfortable providing services to the Food Pantry participants. Before the training, individual differences had become generalized as cultural ones. Now, volunteers make more of an effort to understand the context for conflict, considering the individual and cultural perspective the other may have, and that they themselves may have.
While the Food Pantry still has its share of ongoing challenges, the Cultural Awareness training helped to bridge some of the gaps between participants. If you know someone who speaks Chines/Cantonese and is eager to help the community, please contact me at Acacia@womensbuilding.org.
Acacia Woods-Chan, Food Pantry Coordinator