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These AAPI Women Are Helping Feed East Asian Elders

Heart of Dinner

Good News: This "Dinner Series" Company Pivoted To Providing Meals For the Elderly During the Pandemic

Heart of Dinner
Illustration by Carra Sykes for The Small Business Edition of the Goodnewspaper

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an emotional, mental, and physical toll on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

As a result of the rampant xenophobia that stemmed from the pandemic, there’s been an increase in harassment and hate crimes against the AAPI community.

But for actress Yin Chang (Gossip Girl’s Nelly Yuki) and her partner, Moonlynn Tsai, none of this deterred them from finding a way to support their community during hardship.

In 2015, Yin and Moonlynn founded Heart of Dinner as a community-oriented dinner series in Los Angeles. Traditionally, dinner series have been exclusive events at a private location where a one-of-a-kind menu is presented as an immersive experience with like-minded guests. 

Six years later, when COVID-19 hit, their business began to falter and they recognized that hosting intimate dinners would no longer be a viable business strategy.

Initially, they thought they could pivot Heart of Dinner into a food tour of Chinatown, showcasing the different businesses that were affected by the pandemic. 

But when the city asked its residents to stay at home, they knew they had to pivot again and had the idea to still give back to the AAPI community and do good.

And from there, Heart of Dinner turned into a nonprofit food delivery service.

Their goal is to provide their elders with support through traditional Taiwanese meals and letters handwritten by volunteers. “We just want them to feel a sense of home, hug them with the memories,” said Yin to Vogue.

According to VICE, the first endeavor by Heart of Dinner was 120 orders of five-spiced tofu, mushroom, napa cabbage, and goji berries, delivered to Hong Ning Housing for the Elderly in Manhattan.

It was a clear success, as they've since gone on to provide meals to elders in Brooklyn and Queens too.

Though their initial plan didn’t work out, what started off as a two-women entrepreneurial idea has turned into a community rally across New York City. 

“We were in a position of privilege, so we were wondering how to pass it forward,” Yin told Vogue. “We heard about elderly people being attacked on the streets of Chinatown. We thought about our own grandparents, and how they could easily have been one of these people. So I started calling around to different organizations to find out about the vulnerable in our community, and learning so much from them.”

Heart of Dinner is now volunteer-led, with Yin and Moonlynn cooking the meals from their home and partnering with different organizations around the city to distribute the meals.

Meanwhile, artists are paid to decorate the delivery bags and volunteers write letters to the elders. Together, it’s an assembly line of empathy.  

Through the power of community, Heart of Dinner has brought together over 3,500 volunteers to deliver over 100,000 meals to East Asian elders in need. 

You might also like: How To Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month

How To Get Involved with Heart of Dinner

No matter where you live:

Write Notes: An amazing way to get involved is to write thoughtful notes to be included in meal deliveries. Heart of Dinner is specifically looking for volunteers who can write in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Tagalog — but are totally okay with using Google Translate to do so!

They have some specific specifications (like how to write boldly, how big the notes should be, etc) on their website. You can deliver these in-person in NYC, or you can mail them in from wherever you live.

Learn more and get set up to send in notes.

Work Behind the Scenes: Heart of Dinner, and most organizations, need volunteers to help beyond manual labor. If you're skilled in things like design, marketing, logistics, fundraising, copywriting, strategy, or, honestly, anything else — reach out about getting involved.

If you live in New York City:

Pack Meals: Every Wednesday, Heart of Dinner volunteers meet at a variety of locations to pack meals to be delivered to elders. The organization says they need volunteers who are “team players and have a warm and positive attitude.”

Volunteering will require wearing multiple hats at once to ensure meals are put together and packed in bags, bundles of (sometimes heavy) meals are carried, and ingredients and other items are carried to and from vehicles, storage spaces, and offices. You might also clean and organize.

If all of that works well for you, sign up to volunteer as a meal packer.

Deliver Meals: Also every Wednesday: Heart of Dinner volunteers come together for 3-4 hours mid-day to deliver meals to elders in the Lower Eastside.

According to Heart of Dinner, volunteers must be “healthy and able-bodied, have a license to drive and have access to [a car], or be willing to be a passenger and paired with a volunteer driver.”

If that works well for your schedule, check out this page to learn more and sign up to drive.

Decorate Bags: If you're artistic (or want to be artistic!) you can volunteer to decorate food delivery bags! This is such a delightful way to bring more simple joy to humans through volunteering. Learn more about how to get involved and sign up for a shift.

This article was originally published in The Small Business Edition of the Goodnewspaper in 2021. You can get your own good news newspaper by subscribing today.

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