Protecting Washington’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities During COVID-19

03 Feb, 2021

Protecting Washington’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities During COVID-19

By Joseph Seia, Founder and Executive Director, Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) people in Washington have endured profound impacts of COVID-19. Through the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington (PICA-WA), we have sought to deliberately target the concerns of our communities. With five regional teams supporting Clark, Cowlitz, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane and Thurston Counties, we are providing comprehensive support to families in need, from culturally relevant food distribution to direct financial assistance.

How has COVID-19 impacted your community? 

COVID-19 has greatly impacted our NHPI communities throughout the United States. For decades, we have lobbied, advocated, and outright called on policy and lawmakers to do their part in undoing the systemic structures that continue to harm and put our communities’ lives at risk. These issues have been further exacerbated by COVID-19 which has put NHPI communities at the top for infection and death rates per capita in almost every state. Additionally, these COVID impacts have shown to have far reaching cross-sectional ramifications where many of our NHPI families are currently suffering greater economic, social, and spiritual distress.

In what ways are Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities being underserved? What can be done to support them?

I briefly mentioned systemic structures and the inherent inequities that are built into it. It’s crucial that we critically look at systems like our healthcare structure and even our own place in them, when we think about how NHPI communities and other communities of color continue to be marginalized today. It can all be overwhelming when you think about the scale of it all but there are definitive and real solutions that have been utilized by other communities before and especially ones that live right within in the genius of our own indigenous values if we carefully peel away the pieces that have been tainted by colonial thinking and values. What we’ve tried to do at PICA is keep to our common core Pasifika values when providing social support, developing relationships/partnerships, and when we advocate for policy/law changes. 

Describe your partnership with Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest and how they  facilitated culturally specific food distributions.

Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest have been crucial partners in PICA’s efforts to provide much needed sustenance support for our NHPI communities. Our partnership with trusted faith based Pasifika leaders, careful cultivation of relationships with our volunteers, and consistent availability of food from Food Lifeline & Northwest Harvest has helped ensure that what we were building became a community staple that provided a dignified experience for our communities in mitigating food insecurity. We now have five distribution sites, two sites serviced through our Food Lifeline partnership, and three sites serviced through our partnership with Northwest Harvest.

Can you elaborate on how All In WA’s Emergency Flexible Financial Assistance grant has helped PICA-WA support communities.

Traditional grant funding has historically made things difficult for small CBO’s to properly do the work they set out to do. All in WA’s Emergency Flexible Financial Assistance grant has been a key support in allowing us to really steward the funding so that it directly reaches the families and individuals who need the support most while increasing staffing capacity focused on supporting our most impacted communities. Given the urgency and unprecedented nature of the current circumstances we are now facing collectively, we are glad that this grant has been made available for Pasifika families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. We have stood up our NHPI COVID-19 Funeral Relief Fund, along with providing staffing support for food distribution, for rental assistance support, and other social supports in aiding families navigate the many systems they are having to navigate for help in these times. 



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