During May, Feeding America is honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by elevating stories of resilience, collaboration and hope from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Many people in America are just one missed paycheck away from needing a little extra help affording the essentials like food. And sometimes, challenges like losing a job or unexpected medical bills can mean our neighbors are turning to food programs, often for the first time.
Both happened to Thoupo, who lost her job and was then hit with medical bills. But she didn't give up. In fact, she started giving back. This is her story.
More than 30 years ago, Thoupo and her family came to the United States seeking refuge from the war in Cambodia.
After she emigrated, Thoupo began working in a factory that made car parts in Michigan. The workplace initially accommodated her disability which requires her to sit down sometimes. But after 25 years of hard work, their policies changed and Thoupo’s chair was taken away, forcing her to leave.
“I get help from family and friends,” she said. “Also, I have disability checks which I use to pay for the bills.”
These days, there are a lot of bills, especially medical bills since Thoupo’s husband has osteoporosis.
To make ends meet, Thoupo gets food from a mobile pantry in Holland, Michigan. The pantry works with the Feeding America West Michigan food bank.
“I come to get the food for him because he cannot,” she said.
Thanks to the mobile food pantries, Thoupo can cook the food she likes for both herself and her husband.
“They have a variety of food that usually I don’t buy. I like it a lot,” she said. “I cook for myself – stir fry, soup. Lots of soup!”
Thoupo credits the food – especially the soup – for helping her get through Michigan’s long winters.
“I love the four seasons and the opportunity that I can live and go to work and get my life balance,” she said.
Paired with Thoupo’s bright smile is her caring heart. Whenever she is able, she shares what she cooks with others – usually her son and sister. She tries to arrive early to each mobile pantry she attends so that she can lend a hand.
“I just like to help out a little,” she said. “Not just to come and get (food).”
Want to help people like Thoupo? Find your local food bank to see volunteer opportunities and support their work in your community. Or, donate to Feeding America to help feed our neighbors facing hunger across the country.