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Save the Food in the Community - Jonathan & Grace

Words and photos by Tanya Liu

I meet Jonathan and Grace on a clear and pleasant May morning at their apartment in the East Riverside area of Austin. Their warm smiles light up their faces as they extend to us their welcome into the modest apartment where they now call home.

Theirs has been a journey of over a decade that has brought them across continents and oceans. As refugees who fled the dangerous and volatile conditions of their home country of Myanmar, Jonathan and Grace first resettled in Malaysia, where for ten years, Jonathan worked to provide education to other refugee children in the country. Three years ago, they decided to uproot their lives again with the dream of providing a better future for their own four children in America. They brought their family here to Austin, Texas.

Jonathan with Save the Food founder Allen Schroeder

And they aren’t alone – in recent years, more refugees in the United States have come from Myanmar than any other country, seeking a direly needed sanctuary from armed conflict, religious persecution, or oppression as an ethnic minority. Indeed, Jonathan and Grace have found a small community here in Austin with other refugees from their home country, who speak their language, share their customs, and serve as their adoptive extended family.

And they share their dinner table as well. After Save the Food founder Allen Schroeder met Jonathan at a food giveaway at a non-profit afterschool daycare a few months back, he was struck by Jonathan’s warm-heartedness and spirit. “He’d stay until after everyone had left, and take what was left over,” Allen recalls. “After the daycare program ended, I knew I still had to find a way to help him.” When they reconnected, Allen found out that the food he was receiving at the giveaways was feeding not just his family, but this entire community of Burmese refugees. Since then, Save the Food has been delivering not just one, but eight shares of produce, meat, bread, dairy, and pantry staples each week to their home. “He is a humanitarian,” Allen says fondly of Jonathan. Even with what little he has, he is always seeking out ways to help others.

Jonathan had been working to provide for his wife and children with a job at the airport, but since the COVID-19 pandemic decimated air travel, he found himself unemployed. “I have no savings,” he told me. I asked if he received other sources of community and social support. “No,” he responded. “We don’t know how to find [it]. And my English is not so good.” Listening to his words, I saw a bit of my own family in them: my parents and I immigrated to the US from China when I was 6, and we, likewise, did not know where to turn for the help that we needed. Many times, we, too, depended on the generosity of church volunteers and food pantries for basic needs.

Their struggle is one that is shared by thousands of others in the United States – currently, 35% of Burmese refugees live in poverty, and too often, it’s the already vulnerable and displaced populations that find themselves with no socioeconomic safety net during times like this. This, I think, is where STF thrives, helping to bridge the gaps between the resources available and the sometimes unspoken need within our city.

Jonathan and Grace's son, Ezekiel.

As Grace sorts through the produce and begins making plans for the meals she’ll be cooking this week, my heart warms. I am filled with gratitude that, just like how the goodwill of others helped my own family get by over twenty years ago, I now have the opportunity to do the same for this beautiful, gracious family. In a way, we are helping to keep the simple dreams that brought them to America alive.

Save the Food is 100% run by volunteers and helps vulnerable, underserved families like Jonathan and Grace’s every day. If you are able to make a small donation, we would appreciate any contribution to help us continue to fulfill our mission to keep Austin fed.

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