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Chicago Asian American Police Officers Organize Food Delivery Outreach to Asian Communities Facing Isolation and Xenophobia

Members of the Asian American Law Enforcement Association distribute food to seniors. Photo via Twitter

Asian American members of the Chicago Police Department are partnering with the Asian American Law Enforcement Association (AALEA) in a citywide effort to deliver food to local communities with sizable Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Pakistani, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Lao and Tibetan populations, reports the Chicago Tribune

They’ve been been picking up food from the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels and delivering it to housing areas and food pantries with high need, especially among senior citizens. Some of the delivery destinations include the Hanul Family Alliance, a community based nonprofit servicing Korean immigrants, the Chinese American Service League in Chinatown and Zam’s Hope community center in Rogers Park. Officers estimate that 70 boxes of food are being delivered per week. 

“Our seniors are our most vulnerable population during this pandemic,” Commander Steven Chung told the Chicago Tribune. “Family members may have been bringing food before this all started, their social networks have decreased, the city services they rely on may have seen reductions. And then you have people looking for something to blame this virus on and, unfortunately, the Asian community has caught the brunt of that.”

This is part of a growing movement to reach out to homebound Asian American seniors across the country.

Also joining these efforts is a new community relief initiative–Heart of Dinner–that delivers home-cooked meals and handwritten notes of love to Asian seniors in New York City struggling with similar issues of isolation and xenophobia. 

Co-founded by Tsai and Yin Chang, this initiative is one of the many mutual aid groups created in New York to support vulnerable community members through helping them get food, groceries, and other necessary supplies, VICE news reports

Henry Lai, president of AALEA and a Chicago police officer, expressed that these food deliveries aim to mitigate the virus’ economic impact on Asian American residents, many of whom are reportedly struggling with unemployment. 

Lai reportedly was in recent contact with Haley Kim, the service coordinator at the J. Michael Fitzgerald Apartments, to ask if a few officers could deliver food boxes to residents for the next two weeks. 

Kim detailed that approximately 50% of the building’s 77 residents are of Asian descent and all but one resident are retired. Kim also told the Chicago Tribune that many of the residents are not comfortable with going to the grocery store and don’t always have family nearby to assist them. 

Speaking to the rise in anti-Asian discrimination, Lai echoed that anxieties surrounding hate crimes have compounded existing safety concerns that many Asian Americans have during the pandemic.

“Besides being afraid of the virus, some people are afraid they’re going to be attacked,” Lai said. “We’re here to tell them, ‘If you ever encounter anything, feel free to give us a call.’ Delivering food gives us a chance to check in and make sure they’re OK.”

As hate crimes against AAPIs continue to surge, groups like the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council have launched a reporting center to monitor discriminatory incidents. STOP AAPI HATE has received nearly  1,500 reports of coronavirus-related harassment against AAPI individuals across the country. 

The Chicago Police Department has not observed an increase in reported hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic, but Chung noted that this does not mean they are not happening. 

“There’s generally been a reluctance in the Asian community to report crime in general,” Chung told the Chicago Tribune. “They don’t necessarily know if they’ll be taken seriously. Sometimes when we look at the numbers, they’re not always telling us the whole story.”

Chung expressed that in addition to providing much-needed food, he hopes this food delivery initiative will foster greater trust with the city’s communities. 

AALEA is a nonprofit committed to promoting greater understanding, cooperation and cultural awareness between Asian American communities and local law enforcement, serving the Chicago, the Midwest, and Great Lakes region. 

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