By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Are you looking for a way to make the holiday season brighter for Asian American and Pacific Islander families in Western Washington?
Three local organizations could use your time, talents, and tenacity to make a big difference in the lives of those who could benefit the most from it.
About 30 years ago, Simon Khin immigrated to the United States from Burma with $75 and some clothing. In 2006, the former software engineer, along with others, began helping 14 refugees from Burma — now known as Myanmar — settle into their new home in Washington state.
In October 2009, he founded the Coalition for Refugees from Burma (CRB). He is now the president of its board. Mona Han, a former software product manager, became its executive director.
In the greater Seattle area alone, she says CRB now assists about 2,000 refugees from various ethnic groups “get access to services and become contributing members of society.” Next month, CRB has tentative plans to hold family-planning workshops in cooperation with local school districts.
Both Khin and Han suggest three ways in which the public can support CRB. They can contact CRB to sign up as volunteers and help in any area that matches their interests. Second, they can donate any amount online by going to the CRB website.
Khin and Han encourage the general public to look at a third option, attending CRB community-building activities such as its annual picnic in July, which gives residents the opportunity to get to know Burmese refugees directly. Khin said, “It will, at least, mitigate some of the threats that they perceive of immigrants coming here and taking over their land and their jobs.”
There are no special considerations that CRB needs to make during the holidays.
In 2010, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington will grant 332 wishes to children throughout Alaska and Washington with life-threatening medical conditions.
Sophia Gonzalez, a Filipino American, is one of those children. She battled acute myelogenous leukemia, known as AML, and her wish was to go to Disney World with her family. One of the foundations granted this in September 2008.
Three months later, she underwent a bone marrow transplant after finding that her youngest sister, Sancha, was a perfect match. She finally traveled to Orlando with her family in June. Special considerations by the foundation, such as being flexible time-wise, are necessary.
On Nov. 26, she agreed to be the organization’s featured spokesperson at this year’s Macy’s Holiday Parade in Seattle, on one condition. She would not have to wear a dress.
Wearing a red “Thing 1” T-shirt, instead, she sat on an elevated part of the back seat of a Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible with her twin sister, Stella.
Instead of a traditional birthday party last August, Sophia asked her guests to make donations to support Make-A-Wish’s ongoing efforts. In addition, she and Stella went door-to-door in their Redmond neighborhood asking for donations and participated in Walk for Wishes. They raised $2,500.
“To me, this is a way of honoring Sophia and all of the efforts that her family has put forth and what she’s done for the foundation and celebrating her,” said Donna Verretto, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington vice president of wishes and operations.
Verretto encourages the public to support the foundation financially. “They think because we do things in such a beautiful way that we’re always really well funded. The fact is that we have over 250 children waiting right now on our list to get their wishes done,” she said. “Financial support, in-kind, and cash donations are always welcome.”
Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) Food Bank is the only organization in Washington state that regularly distributes food items unique to Asian and Pacific Islander diets, a special consideration that’s culturally based. Its December Holiday Distribution will be on Friday, Dec. 17, at 8:00 a.m. About 500 people lined up for its recent Thanksgiving Distribution.
As a result, it helped about 5,000 clients in 2010. They have made a total of about 100,000 visits to receive food.
Karen Jackel, ACRS Food Bank coordinator, says the public’s support of the annual ACRS Walk for Rice provides a major part of the funding necessary for her to purchase “almost 5,000 pounds of rice a week and tofu for the Food Bank clients.”
“Some like short-grain and some like long-grain,” said Jackel. “I have a lot of requests for diapers.”
Miguel Saldin, ACRS information and assistant supervisor, says there are other items the public can donate to the Food Bank. They include canned fish, tea, sauces (fish, soy, oyster), peanut butter, Top Ramen noodles, other noodles, and cooking oil.
“We can always use the volunteer help, not only on the special occasions but throughout the year,” he added. ♦
For more information about the Coalition for Refugees from Burma, go to www.allburmarefugees.org. For more information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington, go to www.makeawishwa.org. For more information about the Asian Counseling and Referral Service Food Bank, go to www.acrs.org/services/nutrition.php.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.