We Love BuHi’s COVID-19 pivot turns grassroots into community impacts
Guest post By Natalia Garzón, director of development, We Love BuHi
In March of 2020, people were not interested in listening to oral histories—people were interested in surviving. This was a truth that We Love BuHi, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, faced when COVID-19 found its way to the center of the immigrant communities of Atlanta. The organization, whose mission is to preserve the multicultural identity of Buford Highway, pivoted from collecting oral histories to providing people of the Buford Highway Corridor with essentials, ironically what this area has been largely known for by its visitors – food.
The Feeding Families of Buford Highway Project, a one-year program committed to raising $150,000, strives to mobilize monthly food-drives to impact a minimum of 500 families every month. Starting in November 2020 through November 2021, We Love BuHi aims to distribute 6,000 boxes of locally sourced produce and culturally centric dry staples (proteins are included where budgets allow) to food-insecure families, so that households can stay healthy during this unprecedented public health crisis.
The initiative kicked off in April 2020 to ensure that the people of Buford Highway, a community corridor that bridges three metro-municipalities, had access to food as they navigated daily lives behind the curtains of a growing pandemic. Through a coalition of sister agencies, like-hearted entrepreneurs, and local volunteer ambassadors, We Love BuHi piloted a program that fed over 52,000 people, impacting nearly 15,000 families between April and July. With no clear near-term solutions in sight and alarmingly high COVID-19 infection rates, the agency heard the cries for a longer-term strategy: a sustainable and culturally-centric food giving program set out to lessen the hunger pains for the most vulnerable and hardest hit areas of Atlanta.
Local immigrant communities in which the agency serves are broken out by the following populations: 70% are Latino/Latinx, 16% are Asian American or Pacific Islander, 11% are Black/African American and 3% are white. These demographics speak to greater disparities, including economic, educational, and professional ones that have been brought to light by the COVID-19 crisis. Immigrant households are often multi-generational, have at least one member that is considered an undocumented status and many mouths to feed. With businesses struggling, breadwinners (largely blue-collar, front-line workers) of families along Buford Highway have lost jobs and their ability to make rent and pay utilities—stresses that continue to take a tremendous toll.
Adding salt to the wound, when area district schools went virtual, many of the corridor’s students stopped receiving free meals. Many families count on this federally funded, Title I program for their children. Title I designations require at least 40 percent of enrollment and are made up of children from low-income families. Whether studying from home through ever-changing protocols or adjusting to the abnormalities and emotional strains of social distancing and learning, children continue to take the brunt of the community’s overall distress. Pre-COVID research shows that a child’s development is severely impacted if they do not have the essentials to combat hunger. In a post-COVID world, the root cause of underperformance by lack of food has only exasperated this growing problem.
With all the disparities being experienced at the heart of this community, Feeding Families of Buford Highway provides a monthly food-drive built on accessibility, dignity, and trust. In partnership with purpose partner organizations, such as Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, Latino Community Fund Georgia, The Common Market, Second Helpings Atlanta, and Talpa Supermercados, We Love BuHi continues to meet program objectives, rolling out its fifth food giving event on February 20 at Pinetree Plaza in Doraville, a local institution that is conveniently located from local apartment complexes and neighborhoods in need.
We Love BuHi not only designed a sustainable program that addresses food insecurity along Buford Highway, but they also take deliberate actions to create events that foster connection and trust, an opportunity that is sorely missed in general distribution operations. All funds raised go directly into the hands and hearts of Buford Highway communities.
The agency recognizes factors that are important to its people, which is why the organization takes great pride in its ability to curate culturally-centric boxes. Foods like rice, dry beans, tortillas, potatoes, apples, green peppers, persimmons, jalapeños, and radishes are ingredients that fit directly into recipes that fill communities with familiar comforts. In addition, distribution sites are coordinated with program partners in locations that are convenient; existing destinations such as consulates, strip-malls and plazas that are part of daily routes. The agency builds feel-good event themes that bring volunteers and supporters level-deep into understanding community perspectives and barriers.