Growing up in Las Vegas in an Asian-American family, Metropolitan Police Department officer Alan Dong witnessed his parents’ hesitation when dealing with law enforcement.
Dong attributes his parents’ discomfort to language and cultural barriers and said his goal as a Metro officer is to tear down those roadblocks. As part of that effort, he launched an annual drive last year that’s focused on providing Asian-American families with a staple food: rice.
Hundreds of families lined up in cars and on foot Dec. 13 in the parking lot at Korea Town Plaza, 6850 W. Spring Mountain Road, with shopping carts to collect rice and ramen for their families.
Metro collected about 13,000 bags of rice — weighing 15, 25 or 50 pounds, depending on a family’s needs — and 3,200 packets of ramen to give away at the rice drive. Metro crime-prevention specialist Hannah McCready said the donors included the Asian Chamber of Commerce, Asian-American churches and Hae Un Lee, owner of Lee’s Discount Liquors and CEO of Lee’s Holding Group.
Last year, Metro had expected to serve about 100 families. It ended up feeding about 400. This year, the department was expected to feed about 500 families.
Metro relies on community partners, like churches and the Asian Chamber of Commerce, to recommend families in need of food. Those community partners give cards to the families, which they bring to the rice drive to exchange for food.
The department added ramen to the drive this year after noticing a number of elderly people who needed extra food last year, Dong said. He thought ramen was an easier stand-alone meal to prepare for oneself.
Dong said he got the idea for the drive from the San Diego Police Department, which holds a similar drive for that city’s Asian-American community.
“Rice is universal,” said Dong, who is of Chinese descent. “Unfortunately, when you lump people together as Asians, you are missing all of the different kinds of Asian and you have to find some common ground, and rice is that.”
Emily Higby, executive director of the Asian Community Resource Center in Las Vegas, was collecting rice to bring to families who were not able to attend the drive.
She said it is a common misconception that all Asian families are well-off, adding that the center serves a number of families who are often too shy to speak up about receiving help.
That’s often a result of culture-embedded pride, said rice drive participant Rozita Lee, pastor with Seek Jesus First Ministries.
“Through things like this, they are learning that sometimes it is OK to get help,” Lee said.