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Food cart owner takes action to help Asian American Pacific Islander community

"It’s just time people start taking action,” said Mike Aldridge, chef and owner of MidCity SmashBurger.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A nationwide increase of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) has left many people in the community feeling fearful. But one food cart owner is taking action to help.

Over the weekend, an Instagram post about MidCity SmashBurger was attention-grabbing. The photo featured a juicy burger next to a $1,200 check. The recipient was the Asian Health and Service Center in Southeast Portland.

Mike Aldridge, the chef and owner of the food cart located in Southeast Portland, said it all started when, through Instagram, he challenged Trail Blazer Anfernee Simons to a dunking competition meant to raise money for the AAPI community. Aldridge says his challenge got a handshake emoji response, which he took to be an agreement. Long story short, the fundraiser he was hoping for involving Simons didn’t work out but donations still came pouring in. In total, he was able to raise $1,200 but didn’t want to stop there.

“As a standard white dude, I’m trying to relate and trying to help,” said Aldridge.

His goal is to do something other than post on social media.

“It’s just time people start taking action,” he said.

Credit: Nori Devega
$1,200 check from Mid City Smash Burger

With the increase in violence against AAPI people over the last year, Aldridge wanted to better understand what some people are going through and what else he could do.

Reaching out and listening to his AAPI friend

“I really need to hear from someone on how to do it properly, as a white dude,” Aldridge said. “What they would like to see and how I could actually help.”

So, he contacted his friend Nori Devega, a Portland foodie who posts on Instagram about food and social justice issues.

“I’m always posting about social things whether it’s been Black Lives Matter, or the pandemic, or right now the rising violence against AAPI community, really trying to mix not only the feel-good ‘check out what’s going on in our community,’ but ‘hey, this is really cool the stuff that’s going on in our community but let’s also protect it together. Let’s make it inclusive,'” said Devega.

From one AAPI woman's perspective

She said as a person who is a part of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) community as well as the AAPI community, it’s important to her to have conversations about race.

“When we see these things in the news or in our [Instagram] stories, they look like our grandmas, our moms, our dads, our sisters, it looks like us,” said Devega regarding the violence she’s seen against AAPI.

Devega said it’s not just elderly Asian people getting targeted. She described a time when she felt targeted. She said she was out walking her puppy when she came to a four-way stop. A man in a car made eye contact with her and waved for her to cross. She said when she was in the middle of the crosswalk, she heard something.

“Heard the car accelerating, his headlights are coming at me and I had to pull my dog [out of the way],” said Devega.

“If my fiancé were out of town for work, I would not feel comfortable to just walk around my neighborhood to just walk my dogs, etcetera,” she said.

Asian Health and Service Center grateful and surprised about donations

Devega was also the one to suggest that the Asian Health and Service Center would be a good recipient of both donations.

“The things they do are specifically for cultural relevance. It’s like everyday health services and community services that you could find anywhere else but very specifically to our Asian community,” said Devega.

Holden Leung, the Chief Executive Officer of the Asian Health and Service Center found out about Aldridge’s donation on Monday.

Then he also recently received news that another group, Karats for a Cause, had also raised about $2,400 to donate to Leung’s organization through the sale of carrot cakes on Sunday. Karats for a Cause had set up shop in the same parking lot as Mid City Smash Burgers to sell the cakes. Further, on the Karats for a Cause Instagram page, it says Portland-based Viewpoint Construction Software will be matching a percentage of the donations. Leung said all that news was unexpected.

“For me, it’s somewhat like a sunshine in a cold winter, stormy day that not only give me some warm touch, but it bring hopes,” said Leung.

Leung said the AAPI community has been through a lot this past month and year. Not only have older Asian Americans been isolated due to the pandemic, but then an ice and snow storm kept them inside for an extended period of time, and on top of that Leung said many elderly Asians are uncomfortable going out by themselves to get groceries or to exercise.

Leung said the money will allow the center to continue its services and potentially expand them.

“Let’s share love. Let’s care for each other. It may not change the world, but it will change the day and give people hope,” Leung said.