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SODO Community Market seeks bilingual volunteers to serve Asian American shoppers

One of Home Team Harvest's goals is to improve access to healthy food and sometimes that requires communicating in various languages.

SEATTLE — SODO Community Market in Seattle seeks bilingual volunteers who can help serve the supermarket's non-English speaking shoppers.

Nearly 80% of the market's estimated 600 shoppers a day speak Mandarin or Cantonese.

Jocasta Lee, a new hire at the SODO Community Market, was brought on to help better serve the large number of Asian and Asian American seniors.

Lee is fluent in Cantonese and English and can speak Mandarin. Part of her job is translating what shoppers want to volunteers. 

"Language is huge barrier," said Lee. "Misinterpretation and miscommunication often arise and cause some of the conflicts." 

RELATED: Home Team Harvest: Grocery cards change lives for Washington families fighting food insecurity

Lee also said those shoppers can feel shameful because they have to use body language in front of other shoppers. That's a problem for the no-cost grocery store, which advocates that food is a right. 

"We want our community to come to the market with dignity and respect," said Madelyne Godley, special projects and events manager at Northwest Harvest, which runs SODO Community Market. "We're really trying to focus on meeting people where they're at and part of that is being able to communicate."

Shoppers KING 5 spoke to say having Lee at the market saves them time and makes them feel more welcome.

"During the pandemic and the uncertain environment tends to fill up the hatred and violence towards Asian Americans," said Lee.

Until the market has the funds to hire additional bilingual staff, Godley says the goal now is to get more bilingual volunteers especially those who speak Cantonese, Mandarin or Spanish.

RELATED: Washington nonprofit to open massive warehouse to supply food to those in need

KING 5’s annual Home Team Harvest drive to benefit Northwest Harvest is underway. This year’s goal is to raise 21 million meals. Ways to donate: Online at king5.com/hometeamhavest, text “HOMETEAM” to 41444 or starting Nov. 1, visit your local Safeway or Albertson’s to give $5, $10 or $12 toward grocery cards.

Watch the Home Team Harvest broadcast special on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. on KING 5, king5.com and the KING 5 mobile app.