LTSC’s COVID Relief Work in 2020

Weathering the Storm Together: LTSC’s COVID Relief Work in 2020

By Kenji Liu

After Gov. Newsom issued a statewide shutdown due to COVID-19 on March 19 of last year, everyone was scared. In Little Tokyo, social and economic life was shrinking, residents and businesses were losing jobs and income. As a result, three urgent concerns came to the forefront: social isolation, food insecurity, and financial instability.

Even a few days before the shutdown, Little Tokyo’s community organizations were starting to regroup. Phone, Slack, and WhatsApp networks were on fire. Discussions began about a new program to support local restaurants by buying meals and delivering them to seniors and low-income families. Another thread explored how to remotely continue programming to fight social isolation for residents, especially seniors.

At Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), supporting clients and affordable housing residents has been the top priority. At the pandemic’s start, staff made hundreds of wellness-check phone calls, and as a result, developed initiatives to address food insecurity and financial instability in particular. Since March, LTSC has made 516 deliveries from its food pantry, 2,432 bags of fresh produce and eggs have been delivered to 76 households, and 75 households have received $75,549 in emergency cash assistance, including $10,325 in grocery gift cards. This has been a lifesaver for residents unable to access federal CARES Act stimulus checks or unemployment benefits.

“We’ve received economic help, as well as food. Each week we receive some food from the pantry. We’re so thankful,” says Brenda, a resident and Zumba teacher. “We are going through a very sad and painful situation. [LTSC has] helped lift our spirits and made us feel that we aren’t alone.”

The pandemic has left so many vulnerable. LTSC has been meeting this challenge by also offering small group activities for seniors, free childcare for essential workers, and tax services to help low-income families qualify for stimulus payments.

Through its Small Business Assistance (SBA) program, LTSC has also supported hundreds of small businesses to adapt to the pandemic. SBA’s small business counselors have assisted 135 small businesses county-wide, 60 of them in Little Tokyo, helping them secure EIDL and PPP loans, and apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance—with a total impact of over $5 million in loans, grants, and relief payments received. SBA has also kept 320 small businesses informed with weekly email updates, and matched over 40 volunteers with small businesses to assist them with online marketing and e-commerce.

A crucial community-wide effort has been Little Tokyo Eats, a partnership between Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC), and Keiro. Since March 2020, Little Tokyo Eats has supported fourteen legacy Little Tokyo restaurants, volunteers have spent 78 hours translating menus and flyers, and worked 2,730 hours delivering over 11,000 subsidized meals to predominantly Japanese, Korean, and Spanish-speaking seniors living in six affordable housing buildings. This has brought $113,000 in revenue to struggling restaurants.

Kenji Suzuki, owner of local restaurant Suehiro (which is over 48 years old), is grateful: “I would say that right now LTSC is single-handedly keeping little Tokyo alive, kind of like a support system. We have seriously considered closing, but with their help, we are able to stay open.”

To combat social isolation among seniors, LTSC has provided 16 different bilingual (Japanese, Spanish, and Korean) senior activities in four different locations in Little Tokyo and Gardena. Activities include arts and crafts, gardening, macramé́, coloring, origami, letter writing, creating ribbon leis, chair exercises, Zumba, and fumanet.

In the middle of everything in 2020, LTSC also took time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. “For forty years, LTSC has strived to meet the unmet needs of people in our community,” says Erich Nakano, Executive Director. “So many people are hurting from this crisis. But like every other challenge we have tackled, we were able to create positive change.” Through its COVID-relief work, LTSC still operates with the same values that inspired its founding.

The community has lost people to the virus, essential workers still have to go out and work each day, and residents continue to face financial and food insecurity. But Little Tokyo seems to have hit a certain rhythm—organizations, small businesses, and residents are supporting each other as much as possible, creating a community safety net. LTSC is grateful to its partners and community members, who time and time again have stepped up to take care of each other throughout Little Tokyo’s history. As the world approaches the one year mark of the pandemic, and so much is still so uncertain, LTSC remains firmly committed to our community’s well-being. We will weather this storm together.

 

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