Mary Cheng, director of childhood development services at the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC) in New York City, remembers a conversation with a three-year-old boy who received a free meal distributed by her organization.
When the boy expressed his love for the food, Cheng asked him why, expecting he would just say the food was tasty.
“He answered, ‘because I won’t know what I am going to have for dinner, and, right now, this is my meal.’ That really hit home for me.”
Cheng immediately directed her staff to help this family, packing extra meals so they could have on weekends and other days they couldn’t make it to the center.
CPC was fast to recognize food access as one of the main needs of their community during the pandemic. They were swift in their response and worked tirelessly to ensure every child and family had the food they needed.
“Our directors actually took their cars and drove out to drop food off,” shared Cheng.
On average, they served 352 meals a day, totaling over 42,975 meals from April to July. They listened to the feedback from families and shared culturally relevant meals.
“Food is just a comfort to so many people and on so many different levels,” said Cheng about the importance of familiar food during a stressful time like the pandemic.
CPC has been helping Chinese American, immigrant and low-income communities in New York City since 1965. The group was founded in response to the Immigration and Nationality Act that ended decades of restrictions and quotas for Chinese immigrants in the US and allowed thousands of families to reunify. Hundreds of Chinese immigrants came to New York and many needed support starting a new life in the US.
Today CPC serves a broader community offering 50 programs at 35 sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, including after-school and enrichment programs for kids.
Cheng, who now directs these programs for children, is an alumni of CPC’s after-school program herself. Her parents migrated from China and, with four kids, knew they needed to work. CPC helped them navigate life in the US.
Recalling bullying and challenging times in school, Cheng saw the organization as a safe haven. “CPC really gave me a lot of my firsts in the city of New York. I want to give back. We want the community to know that they can hold our hands and really see all the endless possibilities that are out there.”
With the recent rise in harassment and hate towards members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, CPC has focused on empowering people to become advocates, encouraging them to tell their stories and offering bystander and legal training. CPC also offers a supportive environment for victims of harassment.
Cheng witnessed a family being harassed right outside one of the CPC sites. A mom was leaving with her young child in her arms from a free eye exam when the incident happened. She came back into the office to tell the organization. Immediately, they directed her to report the case and supported her with the trauma.
“They felt so relieved knowing they could come back here and understanding what steps to take. Now, they can share this information with their friends so that they know what to do if this happens to them,” said Cheng.