Heart of Dinner Delivers A Little Extra Love

Get the scoop on Heart of Dinner's new bag decorating event series at The Standard, East Village and the founder's inspiring mission.
Perhaps one of the most impressive projects born out of the pandemic? Heart of Dinner, an impactful non-profit that has delivered hundreds of thousands of meals to elder Asian Americans throughout New York City. Heart of Dinner caught our eye by going beyond traditional meal delivery to create a genuinely meaningful community that tackles loneliness amongst the city's aging population. Each meal is hand-delivered with a personalized illustration and culturally-thoughtful meal ingredients. In addition to the deliveries, seniors can also opt into weekly phone calls by dedicated volunteers. 

This spring, you can support Heart of Dinner's mission by decorating the bags distributed to seniors at monthly art sessions hosted by The Standard, East Village. Artists in the Heart of Dinner community (like the talented Nancy Pappas who kicked off the series below!) will be popping by to offer pointers and free materials will be on hand. Head here to sign up for the next one with Christine Wong and read on for our convo with founders Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai:

Heart of Dinner tackles more than just food insecurity by addressing an even more complex issue of loneliness and isolation amongst the senior population. What are the extra touchpoints that add warmth + community to your deliveries and why was it important to you to add these?

At Heart of Dinner, our mission is to address food insecurity, social isolation, and loneliness among Asian American older adults living in under-resourced and underinvested communities. We believe that addressing their emotional, mental, and physical well-being is vital to creating a holistic support system.

Heart of Dinner's nourishing care package services are built around a hand-illustrated brown bag attached with a handwritten note in our Elders' native language. Each care package contains culturally thoughtful and nutrient-dense meals in the form of a prepared lunchbox and Asian heritage produce that are commonly beloved in Asian immigrant households. We take great care in every detail because we want our care packages to feel like a warm embrace and a loving hug from a family member.

The illustrations on our bags are all hand-drawn, as we deeply believe that our Elders deserve the time, care, and attention to detail that goes into each bag. Our beneficiaries often share that they save the decorated bags to cherish and look at, particularly on the days when they feel especially alone. It brings them a sense of connection to our wider community and reminds them of how seen, loved, and cared for they are.

In addition to the illustrated bags, we include culturally thoughtful foods and items in our deliveries. This includes sourcing Asian heritage vegetables like bok choy and yu choy, fruits, and familiar items like soy milk for our predominantly lactose intolerant beneficiaries, scallion buns, and prepared foods that evoke a sense of home and nostalgia. By doing so, we address the critical issues of food insecurity while also providing a sense of comfort and familiarity.

To further support our Elders, we've developed a calling system within Heart of Dinner. Each week before our delivery date, we facilitate rotations of incredible groups of callers who check in with our recipients. This extra human touchpoint not only reminds them that their care packages are coming but also offers ongoing support and companionship, and a way to meet caring and compassionate individuals. We understand that addressing food insecurity is only one aspect of supporting the well-being of seniors. Studies and research indicate that loneliness and isolation have profound effects on mental, emotional, and physical health. By integrating these additional elements, along with our handwritten notes, artwork on our bags, and home-deliveries, we strive to create a holistic approach that nourishes not just the body but also the heart and the mind.

Our goal is to build access and community for Asian American older adults, a group that has historically been overlooked– striving to make them feel seen and cherished. We want our care package delivery experience to feel like a warm embrace and a tight hug from a loved one, while simultaneously addressing the foundational and universal needs for survival. 

What have been the most rewarding pieces of feedback received from elders in your community?

One of the most rewarding pieces of feedback we received was from a couple in their mid 80's. They shared that the entire Heart of Dinner community has become like their adopted grandchildren. This recognition of the genuine connection and love they feel towards all of us shows the depth of trust and care we’ve been able to build. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to have cultivated such a meaningful relationship with them. 

We’ve even had Elders tell us that they love us. This is a monumental milestone considering that many individuals in the generation we serve were not raised in a cultural environment that encouraged expression of such intimate sentiments. The fact that they trust us enough to openly share their affection is truly humbling. It's a testament to the impact we are making in their lives.

These words of appreciation are deeply touching reminders that our mission, rooted in the desire to care for the Elders the way we would care for our own grandparents, is making a transformative difference. The love and trust we have earned from them is something truly special.

You deliver an impressive 700+ meals per week! Were there any funny (or not so funny) stories that came out of scaling your operation in such a hectic city? 

Oh dear! It's not a particularly funny story, haha, but it speaks volumes about the challenges we face in scaling our operations and the incredible support we receive from our community.

You see, in a city like NYC, finding individuals with cars is incredibly difficult. The constant hustle and bustle makes it a true miracle that we've been able to sustain ourselves for the past 4 years without ever missing a delivery. However, there’ve been a couple of moments when we were on the edge of our seats, desperately searching for a driver.

Thanks to the power of our amazing community, someone always manages to step in at the last minute. Sometimes, a driver even takes on two routes, going above and beyond to make sure that our Elders receive their care packages. However, this doesn’t mean that our Elders sometimes have to wait a little longer for their deliveries, and it breaks our hearts when we receive voicemails from them wondering if we're coming that day.

One of our biggest goals this year is to raise enough funds to create Heart of Dinner’s own comprehensive delivery infrastructure. We aspire to have a fleet of eco-friendly vans and our own hired drivers so that we won't have to worry about finding drivers each week, and every care package can be delivered on time and with love and care, abiding by Heart of Dinner guidelines– really focusing on the quality and integrity of each care package delivery experience. It's a gigantic undertaking, but we're determined to make it happen for our Elders. They deserve the very best.

Who are some of the artists that you’ve collaborated with to lead bag decorating sessions, and how has their work inspired your larger mission?

While we have had the absolute honor and privilege of working with many phenomenally talented artists over the years, we want to highlight a few individuals who’ve made an especially significant impact on our organization at large.

Firstly, let us tell you about Nicole Yeo. Nicole went above and beyond to design our official website and set it up so it was not only user-friendly and engaging but incredibly effective in letting users find their way to donate to our organization and support our mission with volunteering, partnerships, fundraising, and more. 

Right from the start, our vision was to create a website that went beyond the conventional approach of utilizing guilt to solicit donations. We wanted a platform that would connect human to human, welcoming visitors with warmth and radiate love, creating a handmade feel. We hoped for a site that would be driven by heart, honoring the dignity of those we support and embracing visitors with what feels like a warm hug. Not only did Nicole bring this vision to life, she went above and beyond, conceptualizing our brand colors to every detail, designed our entire website from scratch, and led our extraordinary team of website contributors - Marisa Aveling in copywriting, Alex Lau in photography, and Jin Xia in illustrations. The final result was beyond our wildest dreams. Nicole even hand wrote and illustrated breathtaking notes for our Elders to include with their care packages.

Jin Xia, as mentioned above, is the illustrator of our website. Jin actually reached out to us from out-of-state during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic when she was juggling college classes and prepping for finals online. She generously illustrated the breathtaking hero images that you see on our website. With thoughtful guidance from Nicole, Jin’s illustrations have become the central visual representation of our organization and truly capture the essence of Heart of Dinner and her artwork has helped us spread our message of care and support, far and wide.

Helen Lee is one of the first handful of artists who volunteered her time to create breathtaking and intricately drawn artwork on our bags– she created lifelike drawings of birds and flowers. Her masterpieces truly belong in art exhibits and galleries, setting the bar high for all the Heart of Dinner bag decorations that followed. Her artistic contributions inspired volunteers worldwide, creating a snowball effect of gorgeous illustrations– the best of the best for our Elders.

Another amazing individual who has been a long-time friend and champion of Heart of Dinner is Nancy Pappas. During the height of the pandemic, Nancy wrote a 10-page feature about Heart of Dinner for Cherry Bombe Magazine, and amplified our organization’s mission with every opportunity. Her support and dedication to our cause have been incredible. Not only does Nancy hand-illustrate gorgeous bags and notes for our care packages on the regular (she’s created thousands and thousands by now), but she also goes above and beyond by involving her sister, nephew, and nieces in the bag decorating process. Together, they added an extra touch of love to each package. Nancy's creativity and commitment have been truly inspiring.

We also want to share the story of Erin Jiang. A few years back, Erin was chosen by The Other Art Fair to create a mural and design a space for Heart of Dinner, the exhibit’s official charity partner that year. Erin's artistic skills were on full display as she created a jaw-dropping mural. The mural featured a 6-foot brown bag and human-sized bag ingredients, showcasing the essence of our mission. Additionally, Erin created a limited edition print to raise funds for our cause. Her dedication to our organization and her artistic talent continue to inspire us greatly.

These are just a few of the many incredible artists who are part of the Heart of Dinner community. We are constantly amazed by their immense talent and the generosity of their hearts. Their contributions have played a significant role in spreading our message of love and support.

How can guests of The Standard get involved + support Heart of Dinner? 

We are excited for guests of The Standard to get involved with the Heart of Dinner community! There are many channels of involvement found on our website. For local New Yorkers, this could involve spending your day with us, packaging and delivering care packages to our Elders. If Wednesdays during the day are challenging, we always have an ongoing need for more handwritten notes or illustrated bags that you can create from the comfort of your own home and mail in. Additionally, we love creative brainstorming and collaboration - if you might have a creative idea that you think could help to share about Heart of Dinner’s mission and to bring more awareness and funding to our mission, that is significant for us and deeply appreciated. It will allow our organization to sustain, grow, and continue to take care of our Elders in a dignified and loving way. We're hoping to expand our outreach to our fifth and finally NYC borough in Staten Island by the end of 2024, and California in 2025-2026!


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