How one volunteer is bridging a language gap to help feed her community

Christina, a volunteer in Chicago
May 12, 2021
by Paul Morello

In the Spring of 2020, the COVID pandemic was just taking hold across the country and many of our neighbors were facing a new reality: visiting a food pantry for the first time ever. With volunteer numbers down as many people quarantined in their homes, Christina Sung knew she had to do something to help.

“I was raised to give back whenever you can,” she said. “With the pandemic, I wanted to find a way to help out if I could.”

She saw a post on Facebook looking for a Chinese translator at a food pantry not far from her home in Chicago, so she jumped at the opportunity to give back.

“I thought, ‘How great would it be to use my language skills to help out?’” she said.

So, she started volunteering once a week at the St. James Food Pantry, a partner of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She helps check pantry visitors in weekly and also assists with the pantry’s mobile food distribution once a month.

Because the pantry serves a predominantly Asian community, Christina’s knowledge of multiple Chinese dialects helps her make a connection with the clients.

“You can see in the expressions of the people that come to the pantry when I talk to them, ‘Oh, you understand me! You can get me what I need,’ and that’s a good feeling,” she said.

In fact, the dialect primarily spoken at the pantry happens to be the one that was spoken in her mother’s village in China.

“Turns out, the world can be a pretty small place,” Christina said. “It seemed meant to be.”

Besides using her language skills to help out, volunteering at a food-focused organization was a no-brainer for Christina. She’s a chef herself and her grandfather and uncle were also chefs, so she knows the power of food.

“Most people don’t think Asians are lacking, but so many are working in restaurants and a lot are out of work because many of those businesses have been closed down,” she said. “Food is one of the basics. I want to make sure people are fed, especially right now.”

Want to become a superstar volunteer like Christina?

Food banks have all kinds of unique volunteer needs and opportunities and there are plenty of ways to help out, as a virtual volunteer or in person! To get started, find your local food bank to see what volunteer opportunities are available and sign up!