By Amy Schaner, Programs Manager at the Redwood Empire Food Bank
Filipina Barangay, a group of women leaders from within the Filipino American Community in Sonoma County (FACSCI) have opened a food distribution in partnership with the Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB). The distribution will be open the first Tuesday of every month from 9-10 AM at the Filipino Center’s parking lot, at the intersection at Fulton and River roads. The Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) had a distribution at a nearby location many years ago, and it is exciting to re-open service in this area with the help of the Filipino-American community in Santa Rosa. “I feel we need to do something here in our community” said Lee Cachola, the lead volunteer at the food distribution.
Loy, a leader in the Filipino Center dedicated to nonprofit work throughout his 75 years, spoke to us about his dreams for the community. Loy would like two things: first, for people to know their history. The Filipino Center (FACSCI) building has been in the community for over 40 years, and Filipinos have worked in Sonoma County since the 1920’s. Many started out working in the fields growing plants for seed. Now, the Filipino Center’s mission is to preserve their rich cultural heritage and to improve the community as a whole. In fact, Loy’s second dream is for unity. His vision is for unity on many interconnected levels: between Filipino immigrants from all the different islands speaking hundreds of dialects, and also between Filipinos and the more recent Latino immigrants in the Fulton area. Latinos and Filipinos did come together at the distribution the first Tuesday in July to give out food, in what may be the beginning of a wonderful cultural exchange.
For too long the two groups have been living side by side but not interacting. As Lee Cachola said, “there are so many similar experiences between the two communities—everyone has suffered because of the economy, no matter what ethnicity.” As a child, Loy witnessed his father being tortured in the Philippines during World War II, and gets emotional talking about how different racial groups need to make partnerships for peace. “It is so good to give back”, Lee agreed. “After my cancer, you know, my perspective changed on everything… it was now time to be inclusive of the whole community and not to be separate.”
The REFB locates low-income communities all over Sonoma County and offers food assistance, with help from partners from over 166 nonprofit and religious agencies. Together, we distribute food, over 50% of which is fresh produce. In the Fulton neighborhood in particular, people appreciate produce that does not need cooking, because many day laborers have no kitchen access. Juana Renovato, the Lead Programs Coordinator at the Redwood Empire Food Bank, said “It has been my dream to have this new distribution to reach the low income community in this area. And finally, we did it!“ Thanks to great working partnerships between volunteers, neighbors, and staff, we can lift up anyone in need of a little help.