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Stir-Fry Meals on Wheels

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When one door closes, another one opens at Homecrest Community Services (HCS), where a joint effort with closed Chinese restaurants fed hundreds of homebound elderly Asian Americans during the Covid lockdown.

“Stir-Fry Meals on Wheels” was the brainchild of HCS, a community senior center established in 1997 to support the growing Asian American community in  Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. Co-founders  Luther Mook, a Chinese American (pictured above, left), and Roland Hill, an African-American WWII vet, met and shared their advocacy (and their faith) at Homecrest Presbyterian Church, where together, they would co-found HCS.

Helping Homebound Elderly Asian-Americans

Don Lee, HCS Board Chair, leads the charge to preserve their legacies. “When our founders, Luther Mook and Roland Hill, saw the subway platform full of Asian seniors heading to Manhattan’s Chinatown, they called on their friends – including me – to organize HCS, the first AAPI community service organization in Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay.” (The group has since opened the first AAPI-operated senior center in Bensonhurst as well.)

Stir Fry Meals on Wheels

HCS creates unique programs for seniors that are developed and adjusted based on insights from service providers and feedback from participating seniors… and that’s how “Stir Fry Meals on Wheels” was born.

“Our seniors live in neighborhoods that are outside of traditional Chinese enclaves, (Manhattan’s Chinatown, Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Flushing in Queens),” Lee explains, “and with NYC not providing culturally adaptive meals for Asians seniors at the time, we realized that we needed to have a plan to feed seniors and other people in need during the lockdown or there could be a serious crisis.”

“We immediately contacted Chinese restaurants and asked them to stay open, and began working with them to source and deliver ingredients and supplies.” Three restaurants agreed to participate.

Lee says they connected more than 4,000 registered HCS seniors to meals through wellness phone calls when the city announced its shelter in place order.

“We knew it was important for seniors living in isolation to stay informed with official information instead of rumors. Our team updated the seniors in their local languages, we checked to ensure they had sufficient food, (some were so far away, that we provided weekly care packages instead of cooked meals), we provided them with PPE, and we helped coordinate medical access.”

HCS didn’t stop there. When vaccines were finally available, the organization helped seniors register and coordinated transportation to get everyone vaccinated.

“I believe we provided more than 50,000 meals and care packages for several hundred seniors and people in need covering 20+ zip codes, mainly in the South Brooklyn neighborhoods,” Lee recalls. “We continued the efforts until it was no longer necessary and transitioned to encouraging more in person activities and social interactions. We just relocated our Bensonhurst center to a much bigger center to accommodate the growing needs in the community!”

Building Community

Although formed to address the gaps of culturally appropriate and welcoming services and programming for seniors,  HCS offers additional programming. “We also have youth leadership programs and we host, partner, and support other organizations focused on improving the quality of life for people in the neighborhood.”

“Homecrest Community Services is like my second home. It is also a place that allows me to share and express my feelings and emotions!”

-Ms. Yin Mui Pun. 

Rich and Diverse Cultures

HCS’ programs embrace the diversity and the vibrancy of the Asian American community with offerings like Traditional Chinese Folk Dance or Egyptian Belly Dancing. Its programs come in several Chinese dialects, mainly Cantonese and Mandarin, but some staff and volunteers are also fluent in Toishan, Hakka, and Fujinese.

More to Come

Asian Americans represent one of the largest growing demographics in south Brooklyn.  Before HCS, many seniors had to travel to other parts of the city for assistance or to meet with their friends,” Lee observes. “HCS has helped build better connections, friendships, and a stronger neighborhood. More people staying local means more opportunities to support local small businesses and create jobs. The racial incidents in Lafayette High School are now a note in history and subway stations now have signs in different languages. These are the results of our collective efforts working with elected officials and other community stakeholders over the past 26 years,” Lee points out.

Challenges remain, Lee says. “Improving the quality of life for everyone involved will require space, funding, staffing and passion. Organizations like HCS help stabilize neighborhoods, to build stronger bonds and bridge and outreach to other communities,” urges Lee.

“I am honored to be one of the cofounders of HCS, supporting former garment factory workers or restaurant workers from Manhattan’s Chinatown – where I grew up,” Lee says.

NaBeela Washington, an emerging Black writer, holds a Master’s in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University and Bachelor’s in Visual Advertising from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been published in Eater, The Cincinnati Review, and others. Learn more at nabeelawashington.com.

Photos:  Homecrest Community Services

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