“This is healing
justice in action.”
If I have to describe myself, I’d say I’m a small business owner who is fortunate to be in a place to not only be creative but act on that creativity and to be of service to my community.
When COVID-19 hit and the Latinx community became one of the most disproportionately impacted communities, I was scared and overwhelmed about its impact on future generations – and the genetic memories we will pass on through our emotions.
I thought about what it was going to do to my little cousins and babies born to people who have experienced an incredible amount of stress, loss, grief, uncertainty, and racism during this time.
I began asking: What is my role in facilitating healing for our communities?
People advised me against quitting my previous job because we were living through a global pandemic and it offered benefits and stability. The idea of stability at first made me scared to follow the indigenous teachings and my own genetic memories.
One day, I overheard my aunt tell my mom how she needed to go to the food bank but felt conflicted because she didn’t use a lot of food they gave her. It reminded me of growing up in poverty, and how I had similar conflicting feelings about accessing food banks.
I was like, why don’t we have a food bank that gives people the food they eat?
Rising to the Challenge
So, I quit my job and became a full-time entrepreneur-community organizer. I launched a drive-through curbside food distribution business called Alimentando al Pueblo. It’s a different kind of food bank, founded as an energetic response to the pandemic – to get people food that meets their basic needs and to also create good memories during this pandemic.
Initially, it was just five of us: me, my mom Hilda Pardo and three other women – Patricia Palomino, Sandra Simarra, and Azucena Seijas. We are the founding members. We needed volunteers to get this up and running, so our partner organizations tapped into the communities they served and sent folks to help us.
One of the women I reached out to was Pastor Lina Thompson of Lake Burien Presbyterian Church who – even before the pandemic – has been reimagining what the church can look like to her community. Like most churches, they have a big campus with huge banquet-style halls, and she said we could use that space. That’s how the Lake Burien Presbyterian Church became one of our founding partners. Our other founding partners are Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, Para los Niños, Southwest Youth and Family Services, and White Center Community Development Association.
We wanted to reinvest in our community – so all the vendors we work with are Latinx- and BIPOC-owned groceries and farms. Since our people are pro-fresh fruits and vegetables, we wanted to be intentional about the food. That’s how we came up with the idea of having two different boxes – a Mexican box and a Central American-Caribbean box.
Packed with Love
I believe solutions must be multifaceted. While we are addressing food insecurity by providing culturally relevant food, we are also investing in and supporting our community’s small businesses by sourcing our food from local grocery stores.
We commissioned a local artist to create an official print that over 400 families received. To document our project, we worked with a photographer.
We also commissioned a DJ to create an official mix for the food bank. As more people came out and their cars lined up for an hour or more, we started having concerts. We paid local musicians to set up on the sidewalk and play for folks as they were driving through.
I remember this little girl in a car at the food bank was confused and asked, “Why is there music?” I said, “It’s because music makes us happy. Do you feel happy?” She started gigging out and said, “Yeah!”
Feeding the People
“What do y’all think about having a food bank that gives people Latinx foods?”
I live in Burien and have worked in South King County since I was 16. I reached out to the Executive Directors of several nonprofits, my friends and homegirls who have worked in the area for a long time. And they said, “Let’s do it!”
We launched a GoFundMe campaign.
In the summer of 2020 we raised $35,000 with donations ranging from $5 to $2,000. People think they must give hundreds of dollars, but I’m like, “Nah, y’all. If five people give $5 each month, that’s $25 a month and that’s something.” Some of our partners put in money too. And then we started purchasing food!
We opened the food bank with music and arts in July 2020.
In the first six weeks we served 75 boxes per week. Then we received a large $270,000 grant from King County through the CARES Act, and were able to serve 500 families in just that week with 2,000 non-perishable box items and 2,000 fresh produce items.
It’s an incredible travesty that people are going hungry. So, we also asked, how do we do this in a way that reminds people of their dignity, offering solutions to the problems we were facing as a community before COVID-19?
This is healing justice in action. It’s our responsibility to intervene whenever we see oppression happening. The framework for healing justice comes from Cara Page of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective and is rooted in Black feminist theory. And I give credit to all Black women for bringing it forward. It’s not enough to organize and to develop a new world. We must heal from the previous world. We need to heal even if we may never see accountability for the wrongs that our communities have been put through. So, how do we facilitate a space where folks can feel comfortable moving into a new way of being?
Including art elements and different foods is one way we can contribute to people’s collective healing, to use these exchanges and dialogues to facilitate healing. That’s really been at the core of Alimentando al Pueblo and the work I do in the community.
I’ve been asking this rhetorical question – “Why did we deserve to be born during this time, to be alive during this pandemic?” I feel like we were born to live through this because we have creativity needed to develop whatever must exist after this pandemic. When you start to slow down and are no longer working from a place of chaos, things happen. You’re still getting work done … but you’re able to do it in a more intentional, purposeful way.
If I look to what we have in common, it’s that we are collectively done struggling, which has only been amplified because the government really isn’t doing this – the mutual aid efforts rooted in the community are stepping in to meet that collective need.
As much as Alimentando al Pueblo has changed and impacted the communities we serve, it has fundamentally transformed who I am as a person. Now the title I use to describe my work is ‘Owner/Cultural Worker’ – because I’m working on culture and I’m working to shift culture.
We are constantly being told what to feel or that intuitions that our people have had for centuries are wrong. I got to step out of that and say, ‘Actually, no. Look at what we can do when we listen to ourselves – when we operate in the ways we have been dreaming, imagining and envisioning!'
Alimentando al Pueblo was really my opportunity to grasp dreams from up there and bring them down to the ground. That is what gives me hope – to see communities interact with what we have actualized together.
All the things I have lived up to this point in time have led to where I just want to do it – not only because that’s where I’m at in my own journey, but also because people need to start seeing that this is really possible.
– Told to South Seattle Emerald’s Marcus Harrison Green, February 2021
Alimentando El Pueblo, or Feeding the People, is a community food drive to distribute culturally relevant food to the Latinx community in the Highline area of King County (Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and White Center) – especially in the face of the pandemic. Read more of their story on Seattle Times, KUOW, KIRO 7, and Crosscut.
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