Winnipeg’s Asian communities are coming together to lift the spirits — and fill the bellies — of front-line health workers at hospitals fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

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Opinion

Winnipeg’s Asian communities are coming together to lift the spirits — and fill the bellies — of front-line health workers at hospitals fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The goal of the project, From Our Kitchens to Our Heroes, is for one Asian restaurant to provide 50 free meals every night to 50 health-care workers at one of the three hospitals focused on the COVID-19 battle.

Organizer Jennifer Chen said the project is similar to one launched in China in February to provide free meals to front-line staff at hospitals to help workers focus on the battle against the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus.

"The idea is to make a long-term commitment every evening — 50 meals for health-care workers at a hospital," Chen, who is also vice-chairwoman of the Winnipeg School Division board of trustees, explained. "It’s Asian restaurants — Chinese, Vietnamese, Nepali and Kurdish."

Chen put together a team of volunteers in the Chinese-Canadian community to enlist restaurants, co-ordinate with hospitals, and deliver the free meals in a show of love and support for health workers on the front lines.

The project kicked off Easter Sunday when Empress of China on Henderson Highway provided 50 meals for workers at Grace Hospital.

"I want to show them I love them and everybody is together," restaurant owner Yuki Wai said Monday. "Right now the situation is very bad. I know the front-line people are working very hard to protect everybody and I want them to know they are not alone. We are together."

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>Organizer Jennifer Chen said the project to provide free meals to front-line staff at hospitals, is to help workers focus on the battle against the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus.</p>

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Files

Organizer Jennifer Chen said the project to provide free meals to front-line staff at hospitals, is to help workers focus on the battle against the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus.

Chen said about nine Asian or Asian-owned restaurants and organizations have signed up already and are committed to providing free meals for 50 workers at one hospital every night for the first two weeks of the project.

"The first two weeks are covered," she said. "After the first two weeks, we’re hoping our fundraising efforts will be able to cover basic costs for the restaurants to make a long-term commitment. Restaurants are having a difficult time right now and it’s extra pressure for them when we ask them to keep donating."

Chen said they’re urging the public to make the meals-for-health-workers project sustainable in the long-term by visiting their GoFundMe page — From Our Kitchens to Our Heroes — and "pledge a meal" by donating $10.

(The page had raised more than $1,500 of its $10,000 goal by Monday afternoon.)

"We’re asking people to pledge a meal — a $10 donation. For every $10 donation, a restaurant will prepare one meal," she said. "If people want to pledge more than one meal, that would be greatly appreciated."

The volunteers have arranged for meals to be delivered to Grace Hospital and the intensive care unit at Health Sciences Centre, and are hoping to hear back shortly from St. Boniface General Hospital.

Chen said Winnipeg’s Chinese-Canadian community is determined to support local health workers because many had family members and friends affected by the outbreak in China.

"COVID-19 hit China hard and many people in China suffered greatly, including many family members of local Chinese-Canadians," the 36-year-old mother of two said. "My family in China was in lockdown."

The message on the boxes of food dropped off for staff Grace Hospital Monday. The gesture is part of the project called From Our Kitchens To Our Heros where community organizations, Chinese, and Asian restaurants are uniting to provide 50 meals each night to 50 front-line health workers fighting COVID-19.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The message on the boxes of food dropped off for staff Grace Hospital Monday. The gesture is part of the project called From Our Kitchens To Our Heros where community organizations, Chinese, and Asian restaurants are uniting to provide 50 meals each night to 50 front-line health workers fighting COVID-19.

Chen said she was locked down in China during the 2003 outbreak of SARS. "I experienced that lockdown," she said. "I was in China at that time. I was locked in a university. I couldn’t go outside. It wasn’t a good experience because I couldn’t see my parents, any of my friends.

"Food was delivered through the gate. It had a lot of uncertainty and we didn’t know when it would end. So we know that feeling... Now Winnipeg is our home and we want to do our part to help fight COVID-19. We’re all immigrants. Some of our team members are recent immigrants. I’ve been in Canada for 11 years. We want to be part of the community and do our part to help. Winnipeg is our home!"

She said it has nothing to do with the fact the virus began in China — it’s all about standing up to protect front-line workers in the place they call home. "It’s not out of guilt," Chen said. "It’s really we’re protecting our new home and Winnipeg is our home so we want to do our part."

She said the motivation for the initiative is simple — health care workers on the front lines need to know they are supported and they need fuel to keep fighting.

"They are heroes," Chen said. "Our health care workers are critical in this fight. They need good, nutritious meals to keep them fighting."

She noted members of the Kurdish Initiative for Refugees would be providing the meals for workers at Grace Hospital on Monday night. They are hoping more restaurants sign up for the project at kitchentohero@gmail.com. "If more restaurants would like to join our effort, they are welcome."

Chen said members of the local Chinese-Canadian community have seen subtle discrimination because the virus began in China, but nothing overt. Their focus is simply on giving Winnipeg health workers food and support in thanks for putting their lives on the line to protect others.

"At this difficult time, we need to think more about love and humanity," she said. "To show love and courage and caring. Everyone is in difficult times. We just think about caring and think about love. We send our gratitude and appreciation to everyone that is helping."

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
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