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Community grant helps address pandemic-induced food insecurity among Black immigrants

By: Michelle Palansky, Communications advisor, Canadian Red Cross
 
Ona Oji immigrated to Canada in January 2020. She and her two children, Brian and Jasmine, settled in a small apartment in Winnipeg. They had no winter clothing, they did not know their neighbourhood, and they didn’t know a soul.
 
And then COVID-19 hit.
 
They could not go outside without winter wear, so they stayed inside. Their food was running out and they had no one to ask for help. For many months the family was isolated and food insecure in a foreign country.

Grace Kyoon-Achan: a woman looks confidently into the camera, a bookshelf behind her
 
Enter Grace Kyoon-Achan, vice president of the Nigerian Association of Manitoba Incorporated (NAMI).
 
NAMI serves as an umbrella organization for the various Nigerian social and cultural groups in Manitoba. It encourages business connections, hosts Nigerian and Canadian holidays, and promotes intercultural collaborations.
 
“Previously [before the pandemic] what we did was high level, and now, for the first time we were in our people’s homes,” said Kyoon-Achan.
 
At the beginning of the pandemic there was a lot of confusion and unknowns about the virus, explained Kyoon-Achan. “Our people turned to us. We repeated public health messages, but we started to see that new immigrants with precarious jobs would be particularly affected by the stay home orders. All of a sudden, people who lost work hours found that they had nothing to fall back on, so people reached out saying that we don’t have our next meal.”
 
At first, NAMI’s option was to direct people to food banks, but newly immigrated families were not familiar with the foodstuff, never mind how to prepare it. The food was not culturally familiar or palatable.
 
“I was worried that kids would go hungry,” said Kyoon-Achan. “I started personally buying food and distributing to families but then more people needed food and were reaching out to ask for help. We [NAMI] are not funded. We have no money.”
 
The Nigerian Association of Manitoba was one of the many not-for-profit organizations across Canada that received funding through the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund.
 
Distributed by the Canadian Red Cross, “The community grant we received is a miracle. I didn’t even know about possible funding. Someone just suggested we go to the Red Cross because people needed help,” said Kyoon-Achan.

The grant allowed the organization to purchase rice, beans, yams, fresh milk for the children and laundry soap. Enough to sustain families for three weeks.
 
And this is when Grace Kyoon-Achan met the Oji family.
 
A woman reached out, desperately seeking food. Kyoon-Achan went to deliver the package, but no one answered. Finally, the door cracked open and Kyoon-Achan explained that she was there to deliver food. The woman at the door fell back, sobbing.
 
“You are the first person I have seen in six months,” said Oji.
 
“The food meant the world to her,” said Kyoon-Achan. “Another human woman had walked into her world and heard her cry.”

Two young children laughing and cuddling each other
 
"We arrived and did not know anyone or how to get anything here,” said Oji. “I saw the program on the [NAMI] website and applied. I was so grateful when we got the food packages. I didn't know what I would have done with my children."
 
“We are very grateful for the way that this country thinks about people,” added Kyoon-Achan. “Organizations like the Red Cross think about people every day and your work has never been more needed. One of the things this pandemic opened my eyes to is that whatever we do, we need to support people. The difference this grant makes is huge. On behalf of all of the families you have helped, we thank you.”
 
This program is supported thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada's Emergency Community Support Fund.

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