Lifeline provided in Manhattan's Chinatown

By ZHAO XU in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2020-06-11 08:04
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Chi Loek, left, and Donald Hong from UA3 prepare for a food delivery. Photo provided to China Daily

Chi Loek, a UA3 board member, said: "We are pushing to expand our services. Food insecurity is going to be with us not just for months, but for years, and will be compounded by other factors, such as housing. What we are doing right now is intended not as an emergency measure, but as a sustainable, long-term solution to a problem that might grow."

With this in mind, UA3 last week moved its food pantry to Grand Street in Lower Manhattan, where it is expected to reach out to more people in need. The Chung Pak residents continue to be served.

Kathleen Tom-Lew, a third-generation Chinese born and raised in Chinatown, has been working as a volunteer at the Chung Pak pantry since March, and makes deliveries in the heart of Chinatown.

"Originally, we only wanted to serve the elderly, but then other tenants who were out of a job asked to be put on our list," said Tom-Lew, a co-founder of the New York nonprofit Chinatown Community Young Lions.

Hong and Loek from UA3 scouted Chinatown and other areas of New York to find restaurants serving Chinese food that met the NGO's standards.

"These restaurants are funded by the city to provide ready-made meals for our program. While the seniors have something that is friendly on the stomach, the money is being funneled to local Chinese businesses," he said.

Chen, reflecting on the situation in Chinatown since January, said: "Citywide, we've never been considered a top priority when it comes to a time like this. Usually, there are other neighborhoods that are much worse-off than ours, but this is different. It's unprecedented."

The lives of local Chinese Americans, including active participants in community work, have been lost during the pandemic, including that of Jean Lau Chin, an avid collector of oral histories in Chinatown.

Just two people from the Chung Pak complex-a 97-year-old woman and a 105-year-old man-have died since the outbreak, but neither from COVID-19.

According to an article in The New York Times in the middle of last month, one-third of all coronavirus deaths in the US had been reported among nursing home residents and workers.

Wu, the superintendent, said: "Since early March, we have provided masks to everyone entering the building, including caregivers and volunteers. If anyone leaves the building and then re-enters, we give them a new mask. We also give them protective eyewear and thoroughly spray and disinfect everyone."

Referring to the seniors, who have been told not to go outside, he said, "We've gone out of our way to meet their needs and will continue to do so."

Tom-Lew, who has been joined by her entire family in volunteering to help the elderly in Chinatown, spoke of the heart-warming response she has received.

"Officially, we are supposed to limit our contact only to those we are delivering to, for obvious reasons. But people wanted to thank us for our kindness by giving us something in return, such as a water bottle. One lady, who is in her 70s and ethnically Chinese, even gave me packs of gum," she said.

"When the pandemic was raging in late March and early April, tenants would open the door slightly, allowing us to pass through the food bags. However, we often put the bags outside on the floor, knocked on the door and then walked away.

"Before we left the floor, we could hear the squeaky sound of a door opening, followed by a shout down the hallway of 'thank you'."

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