FoodShare Advocate Mar Mar Lin Lends a Helping Hand to Milwaukee’s APIDA Community

Apr 30, 2024

Mar Mar Lin, a FoodShare Advocate at Hunger Task Force, understands the struggles of newcomers in Milwaukee all too well. Born in Burma, her childhood was disrupted by the 8888 Uprising, forcing her family to flee to Thailand and live in refugee camps. In 2001, when Mar Mar was 16, her family relocated to Milwaukee. “When we first arrived, there were maybe 30 refugees from Burma in the area.” Twenty-three years later, Milwaukee has now welcomed over 20,000 Burmese residents.

Mar Mar’s own experience as a refugee fuels her passion for helping others. Fluent in Burmese, she can connect with a significant portion of Milwaukee’s Southeast Asian immigrant population. She uses this firsthand understanding of the challenges newcomers face to guide them through the process of accessing FoodShare benefits – a critical resource in the fight against hunger.

Hunger Task Force works to ensure staff reflects the diversity of Milwaukee’s communities. Hunger Task Force also strategically hires FoodShare Advocates like Mar Mar who speak the languages and understand the cultural nuances of the communities they serve. For those who don’t share a common language with an advocate, translation tools and services are readily available.

Before becoming a FoodShare Advocate, Mar Mar served as a case manager at Lutheran Social Services and freelance Burmese interpreter. In 2014, Mar Mar applied to Hunger Task Force and was hired at Hunger Task Force.

Mar Mar prioritizes building trust and understanding each family’s individual story. “I understood how it felt to start over and wanted to make sure I helped out others the way my family was helped.” This approach is crucial in overcoming the stigma often associated with food assistance programs, particularly within the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community. Cultural norms around self-reliance and shame can make it difficult for people to seek help, and language barriers can further complicate the process.

Now celebrating 10 years at Hunger Task Force, Mar Mar’s work as a FoodShare Advocate combats these challenges head-on. By building trust and providing culturally sensitive services, she empowers members of the APIDA community to access the resources they need to put food on the table for themselves and their families. Her own experience as a refugee informs her approach, allowing her to connect with those facing similar challenges. Through her work, Mar Mar combats the complex issues surrounding food insecurity within the APIDA community, ensuring that cultural norms and language barriers don’t prevent anyone from accessing vital resources.

Hunger Task Force is Milwaukee’s Free & Local food bank and Wisconsin’s anti-hunger leader. The organization’s core values are Dignity, Justice, Equity, Compassion and Stewardship. Hunger Task Force feeds people today by providing healthy and culturally appropriate food to hungry children, families and seniors in the community absolutely free of charge. Hunger Task Force also works to end future hunger by advocating for strong public policies and nutrition programs at the local, state and federal level.