Vietnamese families affected by oil spill offered food assistanc - - The News for South Mississippi

Vietnamese families affected by oil spill offered food assistance

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A new partnership is helping Vietnamese families who are struggling financially to put food on the table. When Bethel Free Clinic received a $200,000 grant to assist people affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, officials decided to put the money into area food pantries. Then officials noticed people in the Vietnamese community weren't going to the pantries.

Son Huynh said the money he earns as a fisherman doesn't stretch very far when buying groceries. He said the seafood industry is still recovering from the oil spill and the recent hurricane didn't help.

"Right now after Hurricane Isaac there is a lot of debris, so they're not catching any shrimp. There is actually no shrimp out there. But a lot of debris they're picking up on their nets instead," Huynh said using an interprepter.

Now some struggling Vietnamese families can shop for free at Lee's International Market in Biloxi. Lee's carries fresh vegetables, products from all over Asia and more than 100 varieties of noodles. That wide selection is why Bethel Free Clinic and Asian Americans For Change officials said they chose to partner with Lee's for a new voucher program as an alternative to food pantries.

"I know when I checked none of the Vietnamese people were visiting the regular food pantries,said Judy Jones, Bethel Free Clinic Director. "So I felt like there was a separation and we needed to do something about that."

"We started out doing a pantry, but it didn't work because a lot of the food they did not eat. So we had a meeting and we agreed on doing a food voucher. So they can go in and pick the food they like instead of what was already boxed for them," Linh Nguyen of Asian Americans For Change said.

Before the food vouchers are given out, Asian Americans For Change screens the applicants to determine need. Officials said there are many families facing hard times.

"Mainly the fishermen because they were greatly impacted by the oil spill. They are sometimes forgotten," Nguyen said. "Some of them still live on their boat and those are the people we reach out to. A lot of the people I meet are either laid off from the shrimp factory or the fisherman who is just getting a bag of rice to put on the boat and eat. It's means a lot to them because they're not forgotten."

Jones said so far the program is working well.

"We're feeding 50 families a month consistently and that makes me feel good. I just couldn't see us leaving out anybody like that for food. I don't like people to go hungry," Jones said.

The people who are getting the help buying food said they're grateful not to go hungry and being able to buy at a store that carries foods from their culture.

Huynh said, that he likes shopping at Lee's.

"This represents the Vietnamese," Huyhn said.

He said it's his tradition and everything he needs is in this store.

Bethel Free Clinic officials said the grant money for the food program came from an anonymous donor and was administered through the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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