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At South Side food pantry, volunteer bridges language barrier

Christine Pao

Christine Pao

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Feeding America has written the following stories that highlight partners within our network. “In Mandarin, the words for ‘pineapple’ and ‘radish’ are the same, but just reversed,” explains Christine Pao, a volunteer at a food pantry in Chicago that serves a predominantly Asian American community. “So, I’ve had clients asking for a pineapple," she went on to say. "But other people think they want a radish, and it can get confusing." Deciphering the nuances between the words for “radish” and “pineapple” in Mandarin is just one example of why Christine started volunteering at the St. James Food Pantry in Chicago.
“There was a language gap and when I found that out, I wanted to help,” she said.
Christine volunteers at the pantry every Tuesday and Thursday. She’s the translator, and also checks clients in when they arrive. “Knowing the language is really helpful especially for when I’m talking to people coming for the first time,” she said. “Sometimes people can’t write English or Chinese, so being able to speak it is important.” The pantry, which receives food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, is one of the only food programs in the neighborhood. They’ve been busy during COVID, as Christine has seen many Asian Americans turning to the pantry. “There are a lot of low-income Asian Americans who need food,” she said. “There are also a number who are undocumented and that’s one of the factors that leads to this community needing help. Being undocumented, their employment is less stable.” Regardless of living situation, the pantry serves anyone in the community who needs a little extra help. And for Christine, that’s what’s most important. “To do something to be helpful for this community is why I keep coming back,” she said. “I’m just happy to continue to make a difference.”

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