Lisa Ung and volunteers help feed the elderly

Meals for the Elderly | The Helpers Next Door

Apr 29, 2020  | 106

by Theresa Knight

Lisa Ung can frequently be found doing good work in her community. She and her husband are active volunteers who also own an insurance agency in Des Moines. Because many of her clients are elderly and afraid to go out, Lisa and her partners began organizing meals and care packages so they can stay safe at home.

How did you become aware of the need for care packages in your community?
We own an insurance agency here in Des Moines and service a lot of the senior Asian communities. When COVID-19 hit, other states saw a lot of racism toward Asians so of course the news spread and the seniors got wind of it. Their kids were afraid to let them go grocery shopping on their own, including my own parents. A few of my clients reached out to me to see if I had any of the hand sanitizer and masks because they couldn't find it anywhere. I was able to partner with Aetna (one of my providers) and they provided supplies.

My friends Nina Khounchanh, Sandy Yang and Khamvanh Kanlagna made some masks for me and we added some of the other stuff that I was able to buy at the store. It was not easy, let me tell you. We had to go to several stores, several days to get what we needed, but we ended up with pretty good care packages. We had the shampoo & conditioner kit, band aids, bacterial wipes, toothbrush, stress ball, hand sanitizer, kleenex, spatula and a mask. At that time, I was not able to find any toilet paper or gloves. We will be doing another round of care packages once I can get my hands on these. We ran out of everything but we were able to make up 50 bags.

And then you started doing meals too?
A couple of weeks after that, 5 Spice Sisters contacted me to see if I wanted to partner with them in the meal deliveries. They thought maybe this would help our community if the seniors are afraid to go out and we really want to protect them from getting the virus. Of course I agree right away. I mean I already had the people that had the need, we just needed the people that was willing to cook. I started calling my family, my Lao/Thai/Taidam clients and shared with my other agents also. By the first day, we already had almost 100 people. The first week we were delivering every day. We would ring the doorbell or knock and leave the food at their front door and walk away. I had mask and gloves on the whole time.

Within seconds, if I don't see them come out to get their food, I call them to let them know it's there. In the delivery, it would include lunch and dinner meals all in the same bag. We are now delivering Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For Monday, they will get meals enough for Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday they would get meals for Wednesday and Thursday; Friday, they would get meals for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday is a big day for us because there is 3 days worth of food to prep and packaged. After the first delivery, the seniors were calling me and texting me that they were so thankful we started doing this. It just brought tears to my eyes. As the days passed, we got more and more people calling. Now we have 165 people that we are delivering to.

What feelings are you having watching the elderly in your community go through this difficult time?
We closed down our office during this time and have been working from home. As I am sitting at home, my heart aches for our elderly seniors. The weather is nice outside and I know they love doing their walks. They love to get together and they love to go and do their grocery shopping at the Asian stores. But now, they are afraid to leave their homes. Either due to the virus or that people will beat them up because they are Asian. No matter what, it's fear that is keeping them home. The only time I saw my own dad was the first day I delivered his meal. But now someone else has that route so I haven't seen him. We are doing whatever we can to help with social distancing. All I can say is, God was listening to me. I wanted to do something but really there was no way for me to cook every day by myself or have the funds to do it every day. It was a blessing when 5 Spice Sisters contacted me. It was an answer to my prayers. But no matter how much we want to do something, if we don't have the right group of people doing it with us, it wouldn't be successful. I am so blessed to have my husband, Jimmy helping with the deliveries, Samantha Baccam and her boyfriend, Michael, Theresa Backham and her daughter, Sirena. And of course the 5 Spice Sisters! The sisters are doing the delicious cooking of Lao food. They are the true heroes!

Why is volunteering so important to you?
I was just asked recently why I volunteer my time and why am I doing this. They say it's a lot of work and a lot of time spent on it. You know, everyone is given the same amount of time. I just choose to share my time with the people that need it. Volunteering is not work. It is spending time with my friends, my colleagues, my community, and anyone out there that needs me. If I can't give you or help you with anything else, allow me to give you some of my time.


Editor's Note: Photos courtesy of Lisa Ung.