Jeson Lee & OpenMeal Tackle Food Insecurity reveals how a 22-year old Asian American created an online app to feed low-income families by buying meals from restaurants threatened by closure. VISIT HERE to learn more about this innovative nonprofit.
From bustling tourism to a sudden decrease in business, popular Asian American restaurants are now suffering the repercussions of COVID-19. Since the shelter-at-home order, over 50% of family-owned Asian restaurants have been forced to close their doors . CBS reported that between March and June, 2,120 cases of hate crimes against Asian-Americans were reported. Everyday, restaurants are presented with new challenges – the rise of Anti-Asian xenophobia, restaurant dining restrictions, and economic strains of the pandemic, all compounded upon one another. On the other hand, food banks are seeing longer lines and increased demands, as 1.2 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March.
Jeson Lee, a 22- year old Malaysian immigrant, decided he couldn’t watch his community continue to struggle. As a full-time product manager in Silicon Valley, he knew he could utilize his expertise in building technical programs to solve problems. He teamed up with a group of Asian Americans engineers and designers to create OpenMeal, an online nonprofit platform that provides meals to the hungry by buying food from small restaurants facing closure. With one donation, a hungry individual is fed and business is brought back to a family-owned restaurant facing closure.
“Coming from an immigrant family, I vividly remember skipping meals and saving up to go to Mandarin Buffet and Grill for dinner, among other local Asian restaurants” Jeson shares. “Memories like these are what makes it particularly heartbreaking for me to watch family-owned restaurants, as well as low-income households, suffer the most amid the COVID-19 outbreak.”
OpenMeal provides meal credits to low-income job-seekers, students, single parents, front-line workers, and anyone else in need of a meal. With these meal credits, diners can buy food from family-owned restaurants facing closure from the pandemic.
OpenMeal’s novel platform supports two vulnerable communities affected by the pandemic: dying restaurants and individuals facing food insecurity. Restaurants were in desperate need to bring back business, as many family-owned restaurants were barely breaking even. On the other hand, financially affected individuals needed to find housing, jobs, and take care of sick families. Many simply could not risk waiting in packed lines outside food banks, grocery stores, or wait for months to receive government stipends. The OpenMeal team built a long-term solution for restaurants and those in need, allowing them to be less dependent on one-time government support.
OpenMeal was created to ensure that anyone could enjoy a delicious restaurant-cooked meal, which is why he chose to call meal recipients ‘diners’. “Everyone deserves a delicious meal to look forward to, no matter what their situation is,” Jeson explains. “Our OpenMeal members are not just food requesters, recipients, or the needy. They are esteemed ‘diners’ who deserve a delicious restaurant meal like the rest of us.”
Unlike food banks and pre-packaged lunch boxes, OpenMeal is one of the few non-profits that’s using technology to feed those in need, while giving them back a sense of autonomy. Similar to popular food delivery apps, OpenMeal allows diners to choose and order their meals online.
After establishing strong roots in the Asian-American community, OpenMeal is expanding their reach and impact quickly. From San Francisco and Los Angeles to Dallas and New York, OpenMeal has over 3000 meals claimed and brought business back to 25 family-owned restaurants of all cuisines and cultures.
Simply put, OpenMeal is tackling FOOD INSECURITY a little known issue that millions of American face each day. In 2020, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children. Extensive research reveals food insecurity is a complex problem. Many people do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, challenges which increase a family’s risk of food insecurity. Though food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity and people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity. Food insecurity does not exist in isolation, as low-income families are affected by multiple, overlapping issues like lack of affordable housing, social isolation, chronic or acute health problems, high medical costs, and low wages. Taken together, these issues are important social determinants of health, defined as the “conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” Effective responses to food insecurity must address the overlapping challenges posed by the social determinants of health. OpenMeal is exploring the impact of food insecurity as a social determinant of health and its effect on individual and population health outcomes.
So what’s next? OpenMeal has plans to expand to the rest of the country, bringing hope to every restaurant and diner in need. To learn more or support OpenMeal’s mission, visit openmeal.org, or contact them at [email protected] Follow them on social media, including Instagram and Facebook (@openmealorg), for updates, milestones, and diner stories.
Jeson Lee & OpenMeal Tackle Food Insecurity was first posted at 501c3.Buzz
Jesen Lee Junzhen is an entrepreneur with a vision, “I want to make as much impact as possible in my life, and saving lives is one of the noblest things you can do in this world. With the current technology, it’s been proven over and over again that AI can diagnose patients, predict and detect diseases and recommend treatments far more accurate than any doctor in the world. Hence, my goal is to build a multibillion-dollar medical AI company by the age of 30. A company that would save billions of lives and changes the world as we know it.”