By Lillian Bit and Nancy Hung, AsAmNews Staff Writers
The pandemic and xenophobia has kept visitors away from Chinatown. Who has come to the rescue?
There are four non-profit grassroots organizations working hard to help Manhattan Chinatown merchants survive the pandemic. They are : Send Chinatown Love , Welcome to Chinatown , Think Chinatown and 46 Mott.
AsAmNews interviewed all the four founders and we asked each to explain their goals and business model. We wanted to learn how they plan to implement digital solutions in an old world Chinatown that often operates with cash.
All of the organizations have the same mission – to provide relief to small Asian owned businesses that operate as cash only, pen and paper businesses. In addition, all the organizations bring in foot traffic by holding events to bring in visitors and advertise those events free on social media.
Justin McKibben is the young founder of the 6 month old organization – Send Chinatown Love. It’s a tech savvy organization of 25+ volunteers.
McKibben says “Send Chinatown Love provides a digital platform through our website, that allows supporters to help struggling merchants in need through donations, purchasing vouchers or active gift-a-meal campaigns. 100% of donations go directly to the merchants.
He adds “If the merchant does not want to be bothered working with a website, SCL will pay them directly in cash or bank transfer and the business owner can use it to pay for operating costs like rent, utilities and salaries.”
SCL also has a Gift-a -Meal program for donors who want to buy a meal for the needy, homeless or seniors in the community.
Send Chinatown Love connects community groups with struggling merchants. The group also facilitates the Gift-a-Meal program
McKibben explains “Restaurants have partnered with local community groups such as CPC, Chinese American Planning Council, and the restaurants provide meals to the groups that CPC supports.
For the entire month of Sept – SCL promoted a Food Crawl – a Self guided map to 13 participating restaurants, bakeries, cafes and each merchant gave you a ticket that participants turn in at the end for a small prize. This helped to bring foot traffic into Chinatown.
SCL recently raised over $20,000 to help Grand Tea and Imports at 301 Grand Street recover from a fire last month.
Partnering and building relationships with already existing businesses is what founder Jennifer Tam of Welcome to Chinatown believes. “I also want to build bridges with multiple generations of people in Chinatown who have been here for decades and feels this is her second home where she comes to enjoy family and friends and community.
“Maintaining the legacy of Chinatown” is my organization’s mission” says Tam.
She and Victoria Lee are co- founders of Welcome to Chinatown which also started during the 6 month period of Covid19.
Their program started with “Feed our Heroes” which entailed purchasing meals from Chinatown restaurants and delivering meals to essential workers. That continued for 4 months from donations on their Go Fund Me. That program helped merchants to stay alive and also helped the community.
“We now started the Longevity Fund which is a grant program to raise $200,000. Our plan is to distribute $5,000 to 40 businesses to help them cover overhead costs. Businesses have to apply for the grants,” Tam says. Decisions of which businesses they would choose were based on the Chinatown community members and advocates that Tam asked.
The first round of $50,000 was given out to 10 business. Restaurant owner Peter Lee of Hop Kee says he was one of the 10 recipients of $5,000. As of this writing Welcome to Chinatown has raised $90,766 of $200K goal.
Actor rapper and comedian Awkwafina donated part of her music sales to Welcome to Chinatown because she watched her great grandma lose her building which was lost to gentrification from larger stores like Whole Foods and coffee shops. Awkwafina doesn’t want to see this happen to Chinatown.
Another program Tam says is “Greens for Good.” Welcome to Chinatown will purchase produce from vendors and partner with local community organizations like CPC-Chinese American Planning Council which will deliver the supply of produce bags to seniors citizen centers that CPC manages.”
You can help by donating to Welcome to Chinatowns website and donate to The Longevity Fund targeted to keep Chinatown businesses here for the long term.
Young Patrick Mock is the manager of the bakery, 46 Mott
“I’m all about community helping community and neighbor helping neighbor,” he told AsAmNews.
He is part of a four person operation owned by Tony Chen, a chef and another worker who in this small but mighty bakery together have fed anywhere from 100-400 meals a day. They do it through donations to their website and through the partnering efforts of Send Chinatown Love and the help of volunteers who assist with delivery.
Mock gives credit to the younger generation who are stepping up to help the small business in Chinatown. Patrick’s own kindness does not go unnoticed. He has been feeding the essential workers and the homeless from his own funds and donations. Patrick worked with Send Chinatown Love, who raised 15k for his meal donation. At one point he was delivering 350 -450 meals a day.
Patrick says “ I’m doing what I can to make things easier for everyone. I likes that the different organizations are doing different things to help. At the same time, I want to connect everyone together, so they are on the same page to cover more ground as a collective than as individual groups or organizations.”
Mock connects all of these new organizations with the older established community organizations. His centrally located bakery 46 Mott has become the central meeting place – like a base where volunteers congregate. Mock informally connects the new younger organizations of Chinatown like Send Chinatown Love and Welcome to Chinatown with the established and older multi-generations of the community organizations like CPC -Chinese American Planning Association.
Mock thanks NY Assembly member Yue-Line Niou for beginning the donation efforts in March at the beginning of the Covid19 period when long lines of senior citizens, the needy and the homeless waited for hours for food distributed from 46 Mott St. After a few months Mock decided to deliver and not have people stand in line so he asked for volunteers to help him deliver to the homeless instead because he wanted other businesses in Chinatown to get business as well. Among those volunteers have been District Leader Jenny Low who has helped deliver meals to the elderly and homeless.
Mock has held a few block parties with assorted seafood, meats and condiments over rice. Friends, neighbors, and his volunteers come together to enjoy a meal and hang out while sharing the stories of what is happening in helping to get Chinatown back on its feet.
Send Chinatown Love has partnered with Patrick Mock to help feed the homeless and the elderly and front line workers. Please donate directly to 46 Mott on Send Chinatown Love’s website or by Venmo or Credit Card or mail a check to Patrick Mock at 46 Mott St. NY @10013.
When one walks around Chinatown today you will be delighted and astounded to see the very colorful outdoor dining booths that line the sidewalks of Chinatown. Think Chinatown’s director and co-founders Yin Kong is responsible for the “Assembly for Chinatown”.
Think Chinatown worked with the architecture firm A+A+A. to provide free outdoor dining kits that were put together and painted by volunteers. These outdoor seating cubicles are painted with wonderful eye catching design and colorful murals which brightened Chinatown sidewalks. Kong says “It wasn’t easy because streetscapes are narrow and we had a lot of regulations to deal with.” Activist/actor William Lex Ham donated $1790 to the effort.
Kong’s four year organization works hard with her team of volunteers to create events that promote the history, culture and arts of Asian Americans. Kong brings in interesting artifacts, storytelling, artists, dancers and films into the community which also helps bring foot traffic business into Chinatown.
From Oct 16-25, Think Chinatown will be hosting a long calendar of events. that. They’ll be 10 days of entertainment including a shadow puppet piece, storytellers whose work will be illustrated by artists, architectural historical tours ,tai chi and fan dance demonstrations and much more.
Much of Kong’s time is spent tirelessly applying for grants so her organization can support these events and projects of Think Chinatown.
All the organizations have said while their efforts have made a difference, it is not enough. They all need your support! Businesses are still down 50-70% ! And many have closed.
Please help through your donations and your participation to support these wonderful organizations who are volunteers. Their fundraising goes 100% to merchants and to help mitigate the losses that Chinatown continues to suffer. Chinatown is far from being above water. They still need donations and we can help by going to each of the four organizations’ websites.
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