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2021: A Year When HungerMitao Rallied Indian and Asian American Communities to Fight Hunger Amid the Pandemic

2021: A Year When HungerMitao Rallied Indian and Asian American Communities to Fight Hunger Amid the Pandemic

  • We are gratified that people gave like never before, to all kinds of causes, to all geographies, even without any personal connection.

Here we are, 2021 is coming to an end. What a year it has been! We started the year with so much hope. The development and approval of the COVID-19 vaccines were to be a game-changer. However, we witnessed a very challenging rollout and administration of the vaccine.

Remember the days of signing up on different portals, waking up at odd hours to check and secure an appointment for the vaccine? Across the world, the situation was even worse, as countries were struggling to get their hands on vaccines. It was utter chaos. Entire medical systems in countries like India were debilitated and brought down to its knees due to lack of healthcare capacity and shortage of oxygen cylinders and critical medicines.

Interestingly, we now know that the new year is not going to magically make things any better. If anything, we learned from 2021 is that we will have to learn to live with this virus. It will be critical for humanity to stay a step ahead of the virus which continues to mutate and morph. And for that, the entire world will need to collaborate and be vigilant in the identification of new variants and updating the vaccine in real-time. And the updated vaccine will have to be made available to everyone across the world to guard humanity against the virus.

Inequity across the world, while unfair any day, is a matter of grave concern when it comes to vaccine availability. If anything, this pandemic has taught us is that our world is tightly integrated and totally interdependent – clearly one can better understand today: no one is safe unless everyone is safe.

While the pandemic directly impacted the health care systems around the world, in 2021 it was the global supply chain that took a huge hit. The rising inflation coupled with manufacturers and suppliers’ inability to get their products to market in time, exposed systemic issues that have long been ignored. These issues have percolated and are screaming for due reform.

Here in the U.S., we also experienced “the great resignation.” This caused a critical shortage of workers and resulted in massive disruption across every industry, and in particular the travel and hospitality industries. The start-and-stop of the economy because of the virus caused businesses to shut down (many of them permanently) or scale down their capacity. It seems we have reached a tipping point where people can no longer work for wages that do not allow them to raise a family, make ends meet. The environment of pervasive inequity needs to end for our nation, our world to move forward. The “Minimum Wage” model needs to be revisited with a goal towards replacing it with a “Living Wage” model – which includes health benefits.

Climate change challenges have also been very visible these past years. Here too, we need to collaborate across the globe to take concrete steps to stop and reverse the global warming crisis started by humans. While it seems like everything is broken, our years of inaction have got us to this point. On a brighter note, in 2021, we saw amazing human compassion. People gave like never before. To all kinds of causes, to all geographies even without any personal connection! It was proof that at an individual level, we understood we were all connected and needed each other during these challenging pandemic times. And in 2022, even as we heal, we need to continue to be compassionate and generous towards fellow human beings — to get through this.

The concerted efforts of this movement mobilized the Indian diaspora in U.S. and resulted in enabling over 40 million meals for the Feeding America network of food banks.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment and food insecurity soared. In 2020, over 60 million people turned to food banks and community programs for help putting food on the table. That number is mind-boggling. It represents 18 percent of the population of the United States – hard to believe that one of the most powerful and advanced countries in the world is food insecure!

Supply chain issues added to the woes. This pandemic has created a large segment of new food insecure families while pushing already poor people deeper into poverty and food insecurity. A closer observation reveals systemic issues which go back to the issue raised earlier – people not being able to earn a living wage. Single-income families already experiencing the wrath of the pandemic are ill-prepared to deal with a sudden change in their home economics, which can come in the form of an unplanned event like illness, an accident, or the like. A recent Federal Reserve survey finds that 40 percent of American families are not able to cover a $400 emergency. It will take strong governmental policy and compassion of the community to bring equity and see us through these challenging times.

This year, in September, HungerMitao – a movement focused on raising awareness among Indian American community about hunger in America and engaging them in the fight against hunger by supporting their local food banks – completed four years of giving. The concerted efforts of this movement mobilized the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and resulted in enabling over 40 million meals for the Feeding America network of food banks.

In 2021, through strong alliances, HungerMitao also moved to the front lines of humanitarian aid. The partnership with United Sikhs Organization (USO) allowed HungerMitao to help food banks during calamities such as hurricane Ida that devastated parts of Louisiana, and the recent tornadoes that ripped through Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. And through collaboration with Sewa Diwali, over 100,000 pounds of shelf-stable food was raised for distribution in North Texas between Diwali and Thanksgiving.

Also, this year, the HungerMitao model was shared with North Texas-based Chinese American community. With HungerMitao model, tools, templates, connections, and mentoring, they launched a similar community engagement model called NiHao. This has helped them unify the Chinese American community in the area around the cause of hunger in this land they have made home. In their very first year, they have already raised $100,000 for North Texas Food Bank.

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For 2022, it is our top goal to share the HungerMitao movement with other affinity groups and communities across the U.S. and engage them in the fight against hunger. To be clear, the hunger issue is so vast that it cannot be solved by the government or a few passionate communities alone. It will require all-hands-on-deck to ensure that no one goes hungry.

“Give where you live” is the motto/slogan of HungerMitao and NiHao. With the U.S being our home, it is imperative that we identify with issues in this country and help alleviate them.

HungerMitao means wipeout-hunger. And HungerMitao is as much about eradicating hunger as it is about unifying the fragmented efforts of the Indian American community and focusing it on the humanitarian cause of hunger. HungerMitao invites the community to come together as the entire Indian American community and show how we engage in any place we call home. We are smart, compassionate change-agents, who give where we live so our community benefits from our presence.

Happy Holidays to all of you! Our family is thankful for so much this year! We are celebrating the joy of family and friends near and far; the compassion and resilience of the human spirit; the amazing pivoting exhibited by our teachers, children, stay at home and work from home parents; healthcare and frontline workers; and oh… technology that has afforded us ways to stay in touch through these very trying times. May you also have many reasons to celebrate.

I would like to wrap up our reflections of 2021 with this quote of ours… “We may never be able to eradicate hunger but let us ensure no one goes hungry.”

Raj and Anna Asava founded HungerMitao in 2017, a grassroots movement focused on raising awareness about hunger in the U.S., improving community engagement, and channeling resources and contributions of the Indian American community in the fight against hunger. In four years since its launch, the HungerMitao movement has spread to multiple cities across the country and enabled over 40 million meals for the Feeding American network of Food Banks. In the early part of the pandemic in 2020, Anna and Raj pledged $1 million to Feeding America. Anna also serves on the Board of North Texas Food Bank. Anna and Raj are full-time volunteers, continuing to channel their time, resources and influence towards food insecurity in the U.S. They also support children’s advocacy, literacy, and mentoring of the next generation.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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