Courtesy of Steven Yen
For sisters Alice and Karen Liu, the challenges of 2020 meant helping their parents close three of their four family-run tea shops, one by one—decades of work, gone in less than six months. Tourism had vanished, and even a walk down the street could quickly feel unsafe, as the family witnessed the nationwide uptick in anti-Asian hate incidents.
Karen Liu and her parents in front of their last remaining family store in New York City.
Courtesy of Steven Yen.
Their last remaining location of Grand Tea and Imports was also on the brink of closing—but a timely grant from a small local nonprofit helped provide critical support in the fight to save the family business. That nonprofit, Welcome to Chinatown, was founded in March 2020 to help combat anti-Asian sentiment and preserve the community of Manhattan’s Chinatown by empowering its small businesses.
“Our drop-off in business was stark, so any dollar was appreciated. … The support from Welcome to Chinatown was a huge relief,” Alice said. “Grassroots organizations have really rallied to help us support each other through this hardship.”
Racial equity-focused nonprofits like Welcome to Chinatown have seen an uptick in grantmaking from donors since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, in response to a surge in donor requests, Fidelity Charitable released a list of seven racial equity-focused organizations that are most frequently supported by our donors. By the end of the year, those organizations had seen a 35% increase in granting over the prior year, with more than $62 million in grants recommended to those groups in 2020.
Among those donors was Boston-based donor James Liu (no relation to Alice and Karen), who escalated his granting when the pandemic hit.
“I do not know anybody of Asian ancestry living in the United States, especially in my generation, who hasn’t been harassed, teased, bugged or bullied because of what they look like,” said Liu, who is a doctor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I’m tired of it.”
Liu increased his giving to nonprofits focused on racial equity generally in 2020, giving to a number of large organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund—but also seeking out smaller, targeted local charities, including many with a focus on Asian communities.
Liu heard about Welcome to Chinatown during an online event supporting a local independent movie theater, did some research and started recommending grants. The nonprofit began by purchasing meals from Asian-owned restaurants to donate to front-line health care workers. They later expanded to small business grants, hoping to buffer the pandemic’s outsize economic impact on Asian Americans.
Support from donors like Liu is key, Welcome to Chinatown co-founder Victoria Lee said.
“Along with financial support, it provides emotional support to business owners—to know that people see how their businesses help form the glue of their communities, and that people care about that and will advocate for them,” Lee said.
Alice and Karen’s family-focused story resonates with Liu on another level, as well. Part of his giving is in honor of his mother—he established his Giving Account with an unexpected inheritance after she passed away. Due to growth over time in his donor-advised fund, Liu calculates that he was able to grant ten times as much money to charities over the five years since he started the account.
“It’s my mother’s legacy that I’m using to support these organizations,” Liu said. “These are donations that I would be making even without a Giving Account, but the Giving Account helps me give on a much larger scale than before.”
That impact has been felt directly by nonprofits like Welcome to Chinatown—and the communities they help support. For many Chinatown residents, Karen Liu said, Grand Tea and Imports is more than a tea shop. On a typical Saturday prior to the pandemic, a young resident might stop by to learn how to incorporate their Chinese heritage into a wedding or the upcoming birth of their child. Older residents may enter to buy tea and linger to catch up on neighborhood news.
But with the future of retail still uncertain, Karen and her family recognize that their ability to help maintain and build community heritage may depend on expanding their customer base beyond New York City foot traffic. With a lot of hard work, as well as support from community partners like Welcome to Chinatown, Alice and Karen set up Grand Tea and Imports’ first online storefront and broadened the store’s social media reach. And when another devastating setback hit the family—a fire that wiped out much of the store’s inventory and forced them to relocate to 298 Grand Street—Welcome to Chinatown helped boost their promotional efforts.
“It had always been in the back of our minds to switch over to an online business model, but we didn’t have the expertise or the resources or the time to spend on building a site,” Karen said.
The solidarity and support they have received from nonprofits and their donors has been crucial for the family as they weather a tough time together.
“The support is more than just monetary,” Alice said. “It’s monumental.”
Courtesy of Steven Yen
This testimonial and the statements and opinions expressed in this article are based on an interview with James Liu, Karen Liu and Alice Liu who each provided permission to use their name (and the name of their firm). This testimonial statement is not indicative of future programs and/or services and may not be representative of the experience of all donors.
Fidelity Charitable is the brand name for the Fidelity Investments® Charitable Gift Fund, an independent public charity with a donor-advised fund program. Various Fidelity companies provide services to Fidelity Charitable. The Fidelity Charitable name and logo, and Fidelity are registered service marks of FMR LLC, used by Fidelity Charitable under license.
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