A New Era of Community Connection | Meals on Wheels People

A New Era of Community Connection

Guided by Nim Xuto’s leadership, Meals on Wheels People is breaking new ground in community outreach and inclusivity. With a rich background in community organization and advocacy, Nim is pioneering efforts to enhance cultural understanding and equity across diverse populations.

Nim Xuto is Meals on Wheels People’s first community outreach manager. This new position is a direct result of our 2023 Community Equity Assessment aimed at understanding ways we can better serve and build partnerships to support hunger relief and food security efforts for Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and immigrant, refugee, and Eastern European communities. Since she came on board in December 2023, Nim has been actively engaging with diverse cultural communities to form long-term partnerships and gather input to guide our equity initiatives. She meets with community leaders and attends resources fairs, works with diverse community leaders and Meals on Wheels People staff to develop culturally specific food menus, and reviews and translates program materials. Advancing equity requires deliberate, intentional action.

But more than that, Nim says, equity is about compassion. “To have a diverse group of people working together requires a lot of training and adjusting and compromise,” she says. “But most of all, compassion. Equity is actually compassion work.”

Nim would indeed know. Her personal experiences as an immigrant, a single mom, a professional artist, a community event coordinator, and a tireless advocate for underserved communities have given her an unparalleled understanding of the complexities surrounding equity work. Her approach goes beyond mere strategic initiatives; it’s about understanding and addressing the deep-seated needs and challenges faced by the communities Meals on Wheels People serves.

Bridging Cultures and Communities

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Nim embarked on her professional path with a degree in marketing and advertising before exploring the skies as a flight attendant (“It was right after college. I just wanted to travel for free,” she says.) Her voyage led her to Colorado, where she raised two boys and became a full-time artist.

She moved to Portland in 2000. Through grants from the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Mercy Corps as well as civic engagement trainings with Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization and Unite Oregon, Nim connected with BIPOC business owners and community leaders. In 2009, she started the nonprofit Colored Pencils and Art and Culture Councils with a group of immigrant and refugee leaders. “My main goal was to break down stereotypes and bring mainstream and immigrant and refugee communities to meet and get to know each other,” she says.

In 2017, Nim became a community event producer for the city of Portland’s Summer Free for All Program, producing events with different neighborhoods and culture groups throughout the city. In 2018, she moved to the Coalition of Community Health Clinics where she worked to ensure that vulnerable populations knew where to turn during their health emergencies and crises.

“Health disparities became my focus, passion, and commitment,” Nim says. Her efforts significantly contributed to enhancing equity within public health and social services in Portland. “Equity means making sure people receive the opportunities,” she says. “Before that, people were aware of them but never actually received them.”

Championing Equity Through Action

At Meals on Wheels People, Nim leverages her extensive background in community organizing and her personal journey as an immigrant to drive transformative community relationships. “Because I became a single mom, I had to receive all the social services. I had to try to improve my English. To improve my job skills,” Nim says. “Every time I applied for a job, I was fighting with native English speakers. My first name alone could be a barrier. There are a lot of barriers. That’s why I try to wake up every day and help break down barriers. It’s a mission close to my heart because I was there before.”

Nim’s approach is multipronged: She’s actively working on making our dining centers more welcoming by integrating culturally specific celebrations and artwork, engaging directly with community-based organizations to build trust and long-term relationships, and tailoring outreach efforts to directly enroll community members in our programs. “This is going to be a very slow process,” Nim says. “We want to show them that we want that long-term relationship. This is the hardest part because communities of color, especially immigrant and refugee communities, have difficulty trusting the mainstream community. Trust and sincere efforts to serve is something Meals on Wheels People is working on building.”

Her efforts are not just about expanding service delivery but are deeply rooted in the pursuit of equity, understanding, and compassion. “Immigrants and refugees face racism every day all day,” Nim says. “When we have elders from other countries come to visit our centers, we need to make sure that they can bring their whole self and feel welcome as who they are. A lot of immigrant communities live in survival mode. They have to adapt to the mainstream environment. So staff training is very important to understand people’s traumas from back home and from on the way here and which continues right here.”

Following Nim’s insights and suggestions, Meals on Wheels People will continue to develop a work plan to help sustain, affirm, and support culturally specific services and invest in our community-building efforts for more effective outreach and communication among community-led groups. We are committed to supporting all work that helps to recognize and alleviate the root causes of food insecurity, ensuring that every community member we serve feels valued, understood, and supported. With Nim at the forefront of these initiatives, we are more equipped than ever to create lasting change and a more inclusive future.

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