The second oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles, Little Tokyo is home to historic and family-owned businesses and restaurants. During COVID-19, many of these local businesses continue to operate for delivery, takeout or online shopping and are also participating in the Community Feeding Community Program (CFC), which provides meals for hospitality workers whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic.
“We knew as soon as COVID-19 hit Los Angeles that our Little Tokyo community would be particularly vulnerable, given that Little Tokyo is very small but has the highest concentration of senior residents and about 400 businesses,” said Kristin Fukushima, who founded CFC with James Choi and Nancy Yap.
“We are extremely worried that COVID-19 has the potential to irrevocably change the landscape and makeup of our community in a way that devastates this historic neighborhood, and we hope CFC will help strengthen the neighborhood through crisis.”
It all started when the program’s founding funders, Susan Moon and Michael Yap, started to support local restaurants and feed nonprofit staff that were doing essential work. They approached Michael’s sister, Nancy, who is vice president of development for Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP), to ask how they could support more small businesses.
With Fukushima and Choi, they assessed the other programs in Little Tokyo and where they could fill a gap. A Little Tokyo Community Council board member and Café Dulce owner, Choi shared programs that restaurants like Mozza and Adamae were having for hospitality folks whose jobs were impacted by coronavirus closures.
They took that idea and added a nonprofit fundraising lens to it—then kicked off the program and engaged donors.
“With a few different organizations doing the important work to support senior residents, we decided to concentrate our focus on filling the gap around small business support,” explained Fukushima, the Little Tokyo Community Council managing director and an Arts District/Little Tokyo Neighborhood Council member.
“The small-business community has always been a core part of Little Tokyo’s foundation and has grounded our memories, connections and community over generations—they are what makes Little Tokyo unique and special, and feel like home.”
Here’s how the program works: CFC uses all money raised to buy meals at small businesses across Little Tokyo and the Arts District at menu price. The meals are then passed out to those whose jobs have been impacted by COVID-19 closures. Distribution takes place from a table outside Café Dulce at 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays until it runs out of meals. CFC has purchased meals from businesses like Far Bar, Mitsuru Sushi & Grill and Bao Hiroo.
Don Tahara, who owns Far Bar and Sake Dojo in Little Tokyo, provided meals for the first CFC donation day on April 11.
“We have provided meals through sponsorships to unemployed restaurant workers and separately to out-of-work bartenders,” Tahara said. “We are currently providing senior citizen meals once per week for CFC.”
Café Dulce started “Dulce Drink Provisions,” which are half-gallon sizes of its more popular drinks, like the dulce latte and blueberry matcha latte.
“We have also started offering other things that are easier for taking away and storing at home, like lasagna,” Choi shared. “We have also brought back our sausage donut, which is only a twice-a-year special item. All of this is in efforts to keep as many of our team members employed while being open and giving our community another option for sustenance and some semblance of normalcy.”
So far, CFC has received support from more than 150 donors who have helped it raise over $20,000. Those interested can donate a meal for $15 online. All donations go directly to purchasing meals from small businesses.
“Little Tokyo is a fairly tight-knit community, and many of us have gotten to know the staff and workers fairly well at the different stores, restaurants and other businesses,” Michael Yap said.
“This is a way to show we care about these folks and want to make sure they can get a delicious meal from a business in the community.”
For more information, visit littletokyola.org.