As the pandemic progressed, Hu says more business owners realized that operating in these circumstances would take creativity and a bit of risk-taking, and that’s exactly what her team wanted to provide. Long-term, Send Chinatown Love teaches digital literacy and marketing to merchants interested in maintaining an online presence. They currently work with over 20 businesses and are looking to work with more.
Send Chinatown Love’s strategy has also shifted over the course of their operations. Businesses told them that as much as they appreciated the donations, they wanted to get more foot traffic back into the area more than anything. This was the birth of one of their most successful ideas: a month-long self-guided food crawl. For every $5 customers spent at one of 13 participating merchants, they could unlock local rewards at 10 more Chinatown businesses.
“We saw really tangible results there,” Hu says. The month-long Manhattan food crawl brought about $30,000 worth of business back into participating merchants. “Knowing that our efforts are really coming up with true, tangible results for businesses, it feels so good.”
However, Hu says the “shining success,” of their campaign so far is one that combats hunger while supporting businesses. Gift-a-Meal allows donors to buy vouchers for Chinatown businesses that will later be donated to community partners, who distribute the vouchers to those in need. You can see how Patrick Mock, the manager of 46 Mott, navigated this project here.
Worth the risk
“It’s definitely been a great opportunity for us to connect merchants with organizations in their neighborhoods that they may not have heard of or may not have worked with before and simultaneously support people in the neighborhood who need food as well,” Hu says. “Your five-dollar donation ends up benefitting so many people along the way.”
While taking businesses online and helping to drive foot traffic back into Chinatown are providing relief to business owners in COVID’s wake, anti-Asian rhetoric has been on the rise since the pandemic’s start. Hu says working to combat this hate is one of Send Chinatown Love’s core pillars.
“Obviously it’s hard to do this kind of work by completely isolating it from this big elephant in the room, which is ‘Why is Chinatown struggling in the first place?’” Hu says. She says Chinatown’s small business community has been suffering even before the lockdown, from a culmination of xenophobia, racism, and gentrification.
Hu says a big part of why this organization’s work is even more important is because of how we use Google to navigate what may be unfamiliar territory. Tourists and locals alike use reviews for restaurants to navigate storefronts and menus in languages other than English. While this is a helpful tool, it prevents business owners from advocating for themselves, restaurants, and food or services. Helping merchants develop websites is a way of combating this xenophobia, Hu says, as it allows them to reclaim their narrative. It allows their vision to take the forefront, rather than allowing reviews to make or break where someone decides to patronize.
“These merchants are telling you what their product is, why they are restaurant owners, and it’s very different compared to this blanketed image of your immigrant business owner in America,” Hu says. “Everyone has such an interesting and unique story and being able to showcase that through Send Chinatown Love has been really impactful in combatting xenophobia.”
Send Chinatown Love currently has two projects to donate to. Light Up Chinatown aims to install permanent lanterns on Mott Street to help drive foot traffic back into the neighborhood in the evenings. You can also support Sticky Locals, Gift-a-Meal, or make a general donation to Send Chinatown Love.
Send Chinatown Love uses all open-source code in their website and digital efforts and has connected with organizations all over the country to create positive change. If you’re interested in creating change in your local Chinatown or community, you can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.