Celebrate Chinatown’s Volunteers!

by Rev. Norman Fong

April 29, 2019

norman fong

April is National Volunteer Month and there are so many volunteers from Chinatown that I am so thankful for and for some people – volunteering can be life changing. All of us who work for non-profit organizations depend greatly on volunteers and for some volunteers, they keep volunteering because they love helping people in need or just love helping the community. Can you think of the first time you volunteered to help an organization or someone who needed help?

One of the life changing moments of volunteering for me happened in the 1960’s. My home church – the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown – asked us young people to deliver food baskets to seniors living in Chinatown’s SROs. I remember seeing the elderly woman so happy to see me when I carried up a box full of food items. Today, our church still runs a food program to hand out to residents living in SROs. With rents being so high, these food items can really help.

cta norman fong
Community Tenants Association

I love many of the seniors in Chinatown too, like from the Community Tenants Association, who constantly volunteer to speak out for the community like right now advocating for more senior housing in San Francisco. Since many seniors are available in the day time and don’t have to work, many of the seniors can volunteer to speak out at public hearings or community meetings – which is so important. In the early days in Chinatown, many of our seniors did not vote or come out to public hearings and so Chinatown was often ignored. We didn’t even have many Chinese American politicians yet or Chinese police officers… Today, we have a very active senior resident population in Chinatown and across the city. There is a Chinese saying: having an elder in our home is like having an endearing treasure. Chinatown is our home. We must cherish our senior volunteers for taking such good care of our home. One of the first times I remember seniors joining our young people to “protest” for more housing was for the Mei Lun Yuen project with Self-Help for the Elderly and members from our church… joining in. On May 9th, Rev. Harry Chuck and his son will be showing off those old pictures of “Chinatown Rising” to fight for Mei Lun Yuen (which officially opened in 1982).

Our youth too continue to volunteer to help Chinatown whether they are from Chinatown CDC, Cameron House, the YMCA, Community Youth Center or church groups… Summer is coming soon and many high schoolers will volunteer to help the younger kids in many summer programs. I volunteered to take care of youth for many years at Cameron House in 1967 and ended up being hired to run Youth Programs at Cameron House in 1979. Later of course, I came to Chinatown CDC and started new youth programs like the Adopt An Alleyway (AAA) Program in 1991 where the youth cleaned, removed graffiti and created beautiful murals in the alleyways like the one on Wentworth Alley across from Portsmouth Square. Currently, our youth volunteers in this leadership development program are spending time with seniors in our buildings and advocating for pedestrian safety.

intergenerational programs youth seniors volunteers
Intergenerational programs

community garden volunteers
Community Garden

Today, we even have volunteers both youth and SRO families volunteering to create a Community Garden. Volunteers help us get Turkeys or Chickens for Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts for Chinatown every year. We are grateful for our volunteers in organizations that have been bringing smiles to our SRO families for many years: the Chinese Hospital, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, the First Chinese Baptist Church for Christmas gifts to our children, the Chinatown Rotary Club for gift bags for families on Chinese New Year, My New Red Shoes for giving our children new shoes and clothing to start off their new school year. For our monthly Super Sunday meetings, we even have our AAA youth volunteers taking care of the children so that SRO Parents can have their workshops and meetings.

community garden volunteers
Community Garden

youth volunteers cleanup
Adopt An Alleyway

turkey chicken giveaway ping yuen
Ping Yuen turkey distribution

I also appreciate all the volunteers from all over the city who help every year with the Chinese Chamber Street Fairs and Parade and also the Chinatown Merchants Group’s Autumn Moon Festival Street Fair. The Community Youth Center and CCC put on an alleyway Street Fair on Waverly just a few weeks ago and next week is the Cameron House Carnival where hundreds of youth and seniors create games for kids in the yard and serve food, and even the police volunteer to get dunked into a giant barrel of water. You have to throw a bean bag through a hole to knock the police officer into the water.

Because we share our laughter and struggles in our community, we have a vibrant Chinatown! Taking care of each other is the essence of volunteerism. LET US CELEBRATE AND THANK ALL THE WONDERFUL VOLUNTEERS THAT HAVE BEEN SERVING CHINATOWN.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on April 28, 2019

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