Asian-American New Yorkers already hit hard by the pandemic and its economic fallout are feeling more isolated and fearful than ever as the number of hate crimes against their community has hit an all-time high.
One such incident, when an older Asian-American woman was assaulted, moved Eric Sze of Noho restaurant 886 to grab all the restaurant owners and food professionals he knew to respond to the hate.
In just over a week, a group of nearly a dozen Asian-American business owners formed to take a stand.
The businesses — 886, Saigon Social, Ho Foods, Nguyen Coffee Supply, Madame Vo, Di An Di, Nowon, Junzi, Win Son, Fish Cheeks, Double Chicken Please, Essex Pearl, Southeast Asia Food Group, Patisserie Fouet, Mala Project, Rai Rai Ken, Potluck Club, Aqua Best, Bessou, Very Fresh Noodles, — and non-profits Feed Forward and Heart of Dinner are uniting to bring awareness to this problem and stand against it together by providing meals to the underserved with the campaign, #EnoughIsEnough.
Asian-Americans have faced the brunt of a spike in hate crimes in the past year as the pandemic rages. Of all bias attacks reported by the NYPD in 2020, 10 percent of them were against New Yorkers of Asian descent — a total of 27. In comparison, there were just three incidents investigated in 2019, according to The City
With new attacks being reported so frequently, going outside for a walk, commuting on the subway and simply going to the grocery store have become bigger risks than ever, even with the looming threat of COVID-19.
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The contingent of restaurants and food-centric businesses have been working overtime to feed those in need, especially elderly Asian-Americans who are unable to shop from Chinatown businesses and restaurants out of fear of these hate crimes and contracting the coronavirus, among other issues.
Since launching on February 12, the campaign has raised about $66,000 to provide more than 2,000 hot meals via Heart of Dinner, Feed Forward, Send Chinatown Love, Welcome to Chinatown. The original goal was $25,000 but the campaign far already exceeded that and will continue to provide meals/donate to local nonprofits until it exhausts funds.
One of them, Heart of Dinner led by co-founders Moonlynn Tsai and Yin Chang, has been feeding the Asian-American community in Chinatown since the start of the pandemic and recently surpassed 56,000 meals, including those they delivered under #EnoughIsEnough.
Feed Forward, an organization dedicated to building a healthier and sustainable food future founded by Winston Chiu and Meg Savage, fed millions of food-insecure New Yorkers during the pandemic, has also chipped in to help.
"Through our work, I've seen the xenophobia and saw news of recent attacks every other day — the violence, the hate crimes and the verbal abuse down in [Chinatown]," Chiu said. "It really got my attention to be vocal and to use my platform as an Asian-American business owner, to do what I can do to make sure I'm bringing light to the situation."
These restaurants, food businesses and feeding organizations are throwing their weight behind this campaign because they know that thousands of seniors and other New Yorkers are depending on them, they say.
Yin Chang told us that while researching for Heart of Dinner, she and Moonlynn Tsai learned that Asian-American seniors are at home and hungry because they have to be isolated and restaurants and Asian groceries have had to shut down. They went from getting food every day to once a week. And when they would get a free meal, it'd be culturally inappropriate, Chang said.
"I can't imagine hearing the news of these violent attacks against people who look like you, and then to receive food you don't recognize, how 'othered' you feel," she said. "Even through food, they're reminded that they're an outsider."
There is a lot of need, too, she added. "Just one building has 1,500 seniors in need, facing food insecurity," Chang said. "It was a shock factor and a reality check."
Through their work, and the work of those involved in #EnoughIsEnough, these seniors are receiving meals they're familiar with — and even excited for. Organizers say the participants are getting their needs in a way that shows someone cares, they're not alone and there's a united front of people and businesses out there that care for them.
Kevin Liang, the CEO of wholesale company Southeast Asia Food Group who grew up in Chinatown and worked in his father's grocery store, said that it was a "no-brainer" to join in and use his trucks to deliver thousands of meals.
"Growing up Asian, we never had a voice or a role model or leader to help us push our cause; we were always very quiet," he said, adding that by joining the campaign he'd be giving his community a platform. "Most of these restaurants are my customers and I have to support them. Without them, I wouldn't survive. Without them, the local community wouldn't survive."
And by joining together in unity, it's a way to show Asian New Yorkers that people of all cultures and backgrounds stand with them.
"We're showing the elderly that there are people, even during this scary time, that all of the community will go out of their way to show up for them," Chang said. "There is good and love and we're countering all the isolation, fear and frustration with encouragement, support and showing up with a smile. We're all in this for humanity. We're showing up for our people — our humans. I hope people can clearly see that if you raise your hand to step up, we're all better for it."
#EnoughIsEnough will be holding virtual cooking classes, community tours, conversations and more, so follow the initiative at givebutter.com/enoughisenough.
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