Amy Chea, MPA
Ringing In the Year of the Ox: UAC’s Lunar New Year Project
February 26th, 2021 marked the end of the Lunar New Year. Unified Asian Communities has been celebrating the holiday for the whole month of February! We wanted to share our celebrations with you, and would love to hear how you and your loved ones rang in the Year of the Ox.
What is Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year, also commonly known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, is a holiday celebrated by several Asian countries and people with Asian ancestry all over the world. The dates of the holiday vary each year, based on the lunisolar calendar, and it marks the start of the first new moon of the lunar year. The festival typically lasts for 15 days, though legally, it is recognized for 7 days. Lunar New Year is considered an official public holiday in China and some other countries that celebrate it, and people who observe the holiday are able to have up to 7 days off from work. (Would love that as a US policy, don’t ya think?!)
Simply put, Lunar New Year represents a time of family gatherings, large feasts, and new beginnings. There are three overarching themes: fortune, happiness, and health. It is a time to honor your ancestors who came before you and to prepare for the future ahead of you. If you walk through a local Chinatown, you might see parades with elaborate Dragon Dances and Lion Dances, people setting off firecrackers and confetti cannons, and children proudly displaying their red envelopes full of money! On the 15th and final day of the celebrations, there is a huge Lantern Festival, with beautifully exquisite paper lanterns lighting the sky for the gods to see. You can learn more about Lunar New Year history and traditions here.
How did UAC celebrate Lunar New Year?
2021 is the Year of the Ox. (It’s the Year of the Metal Ox, in fact!) According to Thierry Chow, a Hong Kong-based feng shui master, this year “usually signifies movements so, hopefully, the world will be less static than last year and get moving again in the second half of the year.” (Read more here.) We can definitely get behind that message, Thierry! UAC is definitely on the move.
The pandemic is what set us into motion. UAC formed due to the overwhelming needs of the Asian communities in Maine. We asked ourselves, “What do people need, and how can we get it to them?” For the last few months, it became apparent that food insecurity was a major issue in our community, as were anxieties about the COVID-19 vaccination, and difficulties in coordinating vaccination appointments for those who were eligible. Knowing this, our team began strategizing around these needs and launched our Lunar New Year Project. During the month of February, we hosted two hot meal giveaways and coordinated vaccination appointments for our Asian elders.
Chia Sen Hot Meal Giveaways
UAC is incredibly lucky to partner with Jen Yin and Tony Wu, the couple that owns Chia Sen Chinese Cuisine, a staple in the Scarborough community, to distribute hot meals to people who need it. Jen and Tony offered to cook free hot meals for people who signed up with our organization, and we stood outside of Chia Sen to hand these meals to folks through their car windows.
Enticing smells of General Tso’s Chicken, Fried Wontons, and Chicken and Broccoli filled the (very, very cold) air! On February 17th and 24th, UAC directed a meal train through the Chia Sen parking lot and safely distributed a total of 42 meals to our community members, along with some gifts to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
We are so grateful for the kindness and generosity of Jen, Tony, and everyone at Chia Sen Chinese Cuisine for helping us feed our community. UAC looks forward to future collaborations with this wonderful restaurant! If you’d like to support their family business, please order from their restaurant here.
Vaccination Appointments for Asian Elders
UAC moderated a Health Roundtable with Dr. Nirav Shah, Executive Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control (Maine CDC), on January 29th. Dr. Shah addressed concerns from community members during a live Question and Answer session on Zoom, which reassured many people of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Right after the Roundtable, we got straight to work and established strong partnerships with local health and community groups to coordinate vaccination appointments for the elders in our community.
To date, UAC has helped 33 Asian elders, ages ranging from 70 to 92 years old, register for their COVID-19 vaccination appointments. Our team of Cultural Brokers and volunteers helped folks determine their eligibility for the vaccine, set up their appointments, arrange or personally give transportation to and from their appointments, and provide language interpretation during their appointments. Our First Group has already received their second dose, meaning 10 of our UAC members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19! They were dancing in the parking lot before their shots and we are still dancing right next to them! We are so excited and hopeful about beating this pandemic, as long as we continue to roll up our sleeves. The other 23 elders have their second shots scheduled, and UAC is forging ahead with registering more community members for their COVID-19 vaccines.
This incredible work is possible because of strong collaborations between different groups in the community. UAC worked closely with the Maine CDC, the Yarmouth Community COVID Testing Group, Northern Lights Health, Maine Immigrant Access Network (MAIN), and Maine Association for New Americans (MANA). Without you, it would not be possible for our senior elders and community to get vaccinated. You all make us so proud to be part of the Maine community! With the help of our partners, UAC stands ready to assist Mainers in fighting COVID-19. If you or a loved one are interested in signing up for a COVID-19 vaccination, please complete our request form here.
What’s next for UAC in the Year of the Ox?
2021 is the year of movement, so UAC will continue to move forward in our mission to support our neighbors through community service. Our members are continuing their outreach to the Asian communities in Maine, helping them with government forms, assessing the needs of the people, and connecting folks to helpful resources and other community partners. UAC will host more hot meal giveaways with Chia Sen, facilitate more Health Roundtables, and keep on truckin’ with coordinating COVID-19 vaccination appointments for community members.
We are currently planning our next Health Roundtable with our partners at Restorative Wellness, a Southern Maine collaborative of skilled clinicians who provide individualized mental health services. We’d love to know what topics you want to discuss. Complete our short questionnaire and let us know how the amazing clinicians, therapists, and social workers at Restorative Wellness can help you during these incredibly difficult times.
In addition, our UAC team members received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, so that we could continue to support our community on the front lines. We received training from the Yarmouth Community COVID Testing Group to become qualified to guide community members through self-administered COVID tests at their own home. The UAC team is qualified to coach folks through two different self-swab tests: BinaxNow and the PCR state test. Thanks to the tireless dedication of our volunteers and the joint effort between UAC and our community partners, we will progress into a brighter, healthier future. We look forward to safely gathering with our families and friends again, preferably around a table of really delicious food! But first, more vaccinations and more community projects.
We’d love to hear from you. How did you ring in the Year of the Ox? What do you think we should focus on during the next few months in order to best serve the Asian communities in Maine? Get involved with UAC and subscribe to our mailing list. We are always looking for volunteers! And if you are able, please consider making a donation to our organization by clicking here. Our work is totally dependent on your donations! Please reach out to us at email@example.com if you have any questions.