Immigrant and refugee chefs make meals for elderly neighbors

KING COUNTY, Wash. — A diverse group of South King County immigrant and refugee business owners is helping isolated seniors in need during the pandemic.

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, chefs with the Global to Local program Food Innovation Network launched a free service delivering meals to the most vulnerable in their community. Food Innovation Network is a nonprofit that empowers low income immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs in South King County.

One of their members, Lilian Ryland, led the effort. Ryland owns Naija Buka, a Nigerian cuisine catering business.

“In Nigeria and a lot of African countries our language is food; if someone is sick you bring them food, and if somebody is on lockdown you bring them food. Especially for people who may not have access or haven’t prepared for the lockdown,” said Ryland.

In response to the pandemic, Ryland teamed up with the group’s members to prepare a culturally rich and diverse selection of healthy meals. To date, they’ve served more than 8000 seniors in need.

“I have to say I am proud of the family that is the Food Innovation Network. How they rose up to that occasion and helped the most vulnerable people in our society at that point in time, it was so timely,” said Ryland.

Since the no-cost senior meals program launched, it has attracted the attention of food banks, community members and businesses all eager to donate services and funds to support this mission. The Somali Youth & Family Club, Congolese Integration Network, Somali Health Board and Living Well Kent are among the community partners that helped distribute the meals. A huge support in funding came from the American Heart Association, the CARES Act and dozens of people who donated to their crowdfunding campaign. Donations in food and other services came from Tilth Alliance, Project Feast, Macrina Bakery, Des Moines Area Food Bank, Food Lifeline and The Storehouse Covington Food Bank.

“We have to take care of our elders because they are ours and they have taught us so many things; they are the ones that provided for us in the past, and now it is our turn to do that. Even if they are not directly related to us, they are part of our community,” said the Food Innovation Network’s program coordinator Faizah Shukru.

This community-driven effort to ensure the most vulnerable neighbors can safely get care during the pandemic was personal for many, especially Ryland.

“I grew up with my grandmother, and I saw her through all those stages; she died at a ripe old age, so I know what it is like for these people,” said Ryland.

It’s these challenging times that Ryland hopes will inspire compassion and remind people they can go further when they help each other.

“A good act, a kind act, not only helps the person receiving it, but it also helps the person who is giving it because we are one, and that is how it should be 2020 regardless,” said Ryland.

To learn more about the Food Innovation Network: https://foodinnovationnetwork.org/.

To learn more about Chef Ryland’s business, Naija Buka: https://naijabukaseattle.com/.

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