Since COVID-19 started, businesses have been forced to close, unemployment rates have increased, foreclosures and evictions have skyrocketed, food insecurity has tripled, and more people than ever before do not have sufficient wages to pay for their basic needs. Although everyone has struggled and faced economic challenges due to the pandemic, it impacts people disproportionately. COVID-19 has struck racial and ethnic minority groups, people with lower income, and rural communities particularly forcefully. Through all of this, one nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, California, has come together to support their community.

Amid the pandemic and California’s stay-at-home order, Asian American and Pacific Islanders living in Los Angeles’ food deserts (areas, usually in poorer neighborhoods, with limited access to affordable and healthy food) have been unable to buy nutritious and culturally relevant produce because there aren’t any ethnic grocery stores nearby or they can’t afford the items. As a result, the API Forward Movement has been helping their AAPI community members— especially the immunocompromised, the elderly, the unemployed, and those in low-income families— by delivering bags of locally grown produce each week to hospitals, churches, and community groups throughout the L.A. County. From there, local families can collect any fresh vegetables they need. This initiative allows AAPI families to be able to gather the specific ingredients suited to cook the cultural foods that are familiar to them, and thus, help people stay connected to their ancestral roots through food during the pandemic. Additionally, API Forward has distributed food through Food Roots as well and are now extending their reach to those who live in Historic Filipinotown and parts of Gabriel Valley. The organization is also distributing up to 500 CSA bags per week to the community and has raised more than $10,000 in donations to continue its program through the rest of 2020. By buying fresh produce from Asian American farmers in Los Angeles and Central Valley then distributing them to AAPIs in need, the API Forward Movement is supporting both their local farmers and communities.

Although the public often stereotypes AAPIs as highly educated, gainfully employed, and economically secure, that is not the case. In reality, many of them struggle with poverty and food insecurity. This generalization ignores the fact that different ethnic groups within the community have different struggles as well. The poverty rate for AAPIs as a whole is 13.8%, but this number is even higher in some AAPI ethnic groups. Moreover, the 2019 AAPI California Workers Survey revealed that nearly 1 in 4 AAPIs in the state work, but struggle with poverty. These numbers are all expected to increase due to the pandemic. According to Prosperity Now and the Pew Research Center, AAPIs are the most economically divided racial group with the fastest growing and widest wealth gap too.

Despite all of this, few eligible AAPI individuals participate in safety-net programs and federal nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This could be because of the perceived stigma around receiving assistance, them forgetting to report they received benefits earlier in the year, or them being unaware other house members received benefits. Furthermore, AAPIs are frequently missing in conversations about policies and programs that impact them, along with research and reports that include race and ethnicity. If the research does include them, the data is often handled incorrectly, has gaps in it, or doesn’t account for various factors. For example, AAPIs tend to be undersampled in research, which ignores the disparities within the community.

All of this accumulates to the misconception that AAPIs do not need SNAP and other safety-net programs. As a result, the government, nonprofit organizations, and the media frequently overlook the AAPI community when they address food insecurity and poverty because they are under the false impression that it is unnecessary. In the future, it is vital that AAPIs are accurately represented in any data that affects where resources go, are included in discussions about policies and programs that affect them, and that people implement more programs like the API Forward Movement to help them.