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Lunar New Year and the Chinatown YMCA

Unlike many parts of the country, where neighborhoods are homogenous, perfectly situated with cul-de-sacs of nicely planned developments, strip malls of generic stores and restaurants, San Francisco is a big, sleepy city – a small community of neighborhoods that are closely connected. And each branch of the YMCA of San Francisco that lives and serves those communities deeply reflects its constituents. 

None can quite compare to the Chinatown YMCA where I work. Situated on sloping Sacramento Street, the Chinatown YMCA was founded in 1911 by and for Chinese men and boy immigrants living in Chinatown. Today, among the many multigenerational Chinese families who are still members, the new San Franciscans living or working in Chinatown, and its volunteers and donors, it still serves many immigrant families living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) apartments in Chinatown. Among the many challenges faced by new immigrants, these SRO families experience poverty, social isolation, lack of access and opportunity. However, like many in the community and those that came before them, these immigrant families work hard to support their children to achieve their dreams and goals through education, and provide a resilient community through their hard work. 

Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year as known in Chinese communities) is the most important holiday in Chinese culture, a time for friends and family to get together, celebrate, and share special meals. For some residents who don’t have the space to gather or whose extended families are in Asia, the Chinatown YMCA provided space and community, and despite the challenges faced by this past year, still is. 

As many who have ever come to Chinatown or been in Asian markets know, food is really important to the Chinese community, and especially on Chinese New Year. In the past, groups of volunteers, Gong Gongs (grandpas) and Po Pos (grandmas) plan, purchase, and prepare all of the New Year celebration meals for afterschool students and their families, SRO families, and a seniors hot pot lunch. The volunteers take a lot of pride in the meals they prepare and serve and spend weeks planning this special meal.  

The Chinatown Y puts a lot of emphasis on belonging and knowing their community. While there will be no big gatherings for the community this Chinese New Year, volunteers are still preparing special meals for residents to bring to their homes. We want our community to know that the Y is still here if you need us or if someone you love needs us – we’re here for you.