“I think back and this could have been my family a couple generations ago. My mom and her 5 brothers and my grandma and grandpa, they lived in one of the low income housing units in Chinatown. This easily could have been my family needing help. If I can share the message and get other people to donate, it makes me feel pretty happy.” – Aaron Lim
Food & Fuel
Community Resilience is Food Security
Chinatown Community Development Corporation
San Francisco, CA
Chinatown Community Development Corporation
San Francisco, CA
As the oldest and largest Chinatown in the United States, San Francisco’s Chinatown has a long history of resilience dating back to its origins in the mid-1800’s. Chinatown Community Development Corporation (CCDC) has been central to ensuring the continued strength and community connectedness of this critically important neighborhood, engaging in placemaking strategies for the past 40+ years. It is no surprise, then, that CCDC was quick to respond to both the public health crisis and economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chinatown Community Development Center + Self Help for the Elderly + SRO Families United Collaborative + SF New Deal + World Central Kitchen +34 Chinatown restaurants + artists and filmmakers + over 150 volunteers + Chinatown residents of public housing & SROs
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place order in March 2020, CCDC shifted to prioritize reducing disease transmission in Chinatown’s Single Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings and public housing. Chinatown CDC quickly responded with other nonprofits to deliver meals to mainly low-income, limited English-proficient immigrants to minimize contact in shared kitchens and bathrooms. The Feed+Fuel program also became a lifeline for 34 Chinatown restaurants, making up for lost business and keeping workers employed. By supplying over 120,000 culturally-aligned meals, the program protected and fed vulnerable seniors and families while supporting Chinatown’s workforce of legacy restaurants.
“1/3rd of the tenants in this SRO building are seniors. With the help of this program, we don’t need to go to the kitchen to cook, nor do we need to go out and buy groceries frequently. We can avoid the risk of exposing ourselves to infection, and it alleviates our financial burden of buying food. I really appreciate all the volunteers effort and this program meant a lot to us.”
CCDC invited donors to support the purchase of meals for community members, utilizing creative strategies including commissioning local youth artist Kelly Ma to design a logo, and partnering with artists and filmmakers to identify neighborhood assets and document the community-wide efforts.
- Over three months, the Food & Fuel program accomplished the following:
- 122,000 meals provided to seniors and residents living in SROs and public housing.
- 15 Chinatown CDC staff deployed to help with food packaging and distribution each day.
- Over 150 volunteers mobilized over 3 months, completing 1,400 volunteer shifts and 2,000 volunteer hours.
- Kept 34 Chinatown restaurants open and workers employed
“While seeking help from Resident Services, I observed the volunteers awaiting the drop-odd of the meals for Ping Yuen and felt compelled to offer my assistance. Volunteering allowed me to once again be active and also greet my neighbors and uplift their spirits delivering meals to them. I later got my grandson involved!”
The importance of Chinatown’s restaurants and culturally relevant food culture has been a centerpiece of CCDC’s placemaking work over the years. In 2017, CCDC hosted a photo exhibit – EAT CHINATOWN – at one of its community art spaces – 41 Ross – to commemorate classic Chinatown restaurants, diners and bakeries that have been operating for at least 40 years and to spotlight local businesses impacted by the Central Subway construction.
“Chinatown restaurants have served multiple purposes in the community. First and foremost, a place to eat affordable home-style comfort food. Many of the menus are unique to San Francisco’s Chinatown (the oldest in the Western hemisphere) reflecting a combination of American, Chinese American, Hong Kong and Chinese cuisines, sometimes all on one plate. It provided a sense of community and shield from discrimination experienced in other neighborhoods. It was also a landing pad for immigrants looking for work as it required little English. And as the Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese people from freely entering the United States, restaurants owners were able to use their merchant status to sponsor family members and people from their villages, giving them a ticket into the States and economic opportunity.” –Spotlight Chinatown.
Food – and the restaurants that connect community through food – has and continues to play a defining role in Chinatown’s identity and the expression of Chinese and Chinese American culture. Protecting Chinatown’s restaurants is protecting Chinatown’s cultural heritage and Chinatown’s people.
“Initially I was trying to deliver food and support specific restaurants. Now I’m a lot more passionate about driving this fundraiser. The Feed + Fuel program was really important to me because this helped the families and seniors who live in the SRO’s. WIth this program they didn’t have to go out to the communal kitchens; they didn’t have to go out and buy food. They had food delivered to them to keep them safer.”
- Get the community back to work
- Feed the most vulnerable
- Help maintain social distancing
- Partner with artists to raise funds and to document relief efforts
- “We [CCDC] fed our residents because we pivoted staff to focus on these efforts. Without staff’s capacity to organize and coordinate, and our relationships with restaurants, the city and other nonprofits, this collective effort wouldn’t be possible.” – Erika Gee, Senior Planner – Chinatown Community Development Center
- Dedicated Staff. Having an anchor CDC or nonprofit organization with staff and capacity to shift staffing resources in response to the pandemic towards a project like this was critical.
- Relationships, relationships, relationships. In addition to a bilingual, bicultural staff, CCDC had existing relationships with restaurants, with neighborhood nonprofits and funders, with volunteers, and with elected officials and city agencies.
- Proof of concept. A number of restaurants expressed interest in the program only after they saw it up and running for a while. It’s important to have folks willing to take the initial leap with you, the experimenters; and it’s important to showcase what you’re doing to bring even more people along.
- Our work inspires others.