Little Saigon district pivots to turkeys and cranberries for this Thanksgiving

Annie Le and Nhat Le (not related) in front of the newly reopened Homestead Bakery and Café in Fields Corner. Both are involved in the Little Saigon Cultural District and Homestead as well. Using their network from organizing the Little Saigon District over the past few years, they’ve helped unite the community to provide an in-person Thanksgiving meal for those in need or by themselves. Seth Daniel photo

The Boston Little Saigon Cultural District was born with the idea to highlight Vietnamese art and culture. But this Thanksgiving, those involved in the district will be focused on the Puritanical tradition of feeding turkey to the community.

Already, there has been great momentum with Little Saigon partners, including newly reopened Home.stead Bakery and Cafe and Pho Hoa Restaurant, among others. The point of the district was to promote arts and culture in a variety of ways, but with the collaborative network that evolved from the years-long effort, taking care of the community was something naturally developed for this Thanksgiving during the ongoing pandemic.

“We made a request to the Board and they said to do it without question,” said Annie Le, manager of Little Saigon. “People on the Board wanted to give back to the community. We’ve asked the community for a lot of support. We felt this was the time to be able to give back.”

Added Nhat Le (no relation to Annie Le), who is also a board member of Little Saigon, “It’s a great opportunity to get people together during these times. There’s no better time than now. The cost of everything is so expensive for people. The cost of turkey and ingredients are so expensive and the cost of travel is so expensive. This was the time we could help serve people in the community.”

Annie Le, who also just recently became a managing partner of the reopened Home.stead, quickly joined forces with Nhat Le and her husband, Jack Wu – who originally opened Home.stead and is still involved. They all agreed to use Home.stead as the launching point for cooking and preparing the meals. Getting 10 turkeys donated from the city, they were instructed to cook them and will do so at Home.stead on Thanksgiving morning. They also plan to have potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, vegetables and pies for dessert.

In working out the logistics, they were able to lean on Little Saigon board member Tam Le (no relation to Annie Le or Nhat Le), who operates the Pho Hoa Restaurant. Wanting to “pay it forward” as part of the effort, he agreed to donate his outside patio at his Dorchester Avenue restaurant for the dinner.

The effort could draw additional partners.

“We’ll see how things go,” said Jack Wu. “We think people will want to participate when everyone is in the giving spirit and then we can do more with the same amount of money.”

Annie Le said they believe they have found their niche in cooking a meal for the community, as there are already many who are handing out frozen turkeys and ingredients for side dishes – known affectionately in New England as the “fixin’s.” Getting all of the ingredients for the meal, however, doesn’t work for everyone, she said, which is where the Little Saigon network finds a place this Thanksgiving.

“Part of the pandemic situation is people can’t go home for the holidays and some people are by themselves and can’t cook a whole Thanksgiving meal,” she said. “Some people are staying in shelters or a hotel and can’t cook a turkey…There are a lot of people handing out turkeys, but if you can’t cook it, what’s the point? I learned that lesson when I worked in the schools. Some of our families don’t have kitchens to cook the meals and the ingredients we gave them. For those people that don’t have anyone to eat with, they can come have a meal with the community and eat together. If they want to, they can also take it to go.”

The Little Saigon district came together after years of organizing in the Fields Corner business community. In December 2019, the city approved the Fields Corner area as an official cultural district. In February, an official nonprofit formed. Then in May, the Massachusetts Cultural Council gave the final approval to make the Fields Corner area the Little Saigon Arts and Cultural District – complete with an autonomous board of seven people and a manager.

Annie Le, the manager of the district, said COVID-19 had allowed them to organize things and focus on immediate needs like cooking the Thanksgiving meal. However, she also said they will soon be re-introducing the arts and cultural mission as they transition.

“The pandemic allowed us to do a lot of internal organizing on this effort,” she said. “Originally, the district was more about arts and culture, but then the pandemic happened and we’ve focused more on the community and the businesses. The cultural part is coming back, and we plan to start that in February with Lanterns and other things for the Vietnamese New Year.”

While participants in the dinner are coming via referral from neighborhood providers, volunteers are in great demand. To find out more about being a volunteer in the effort, check the Little Saigon Facebook page where there is a volunteer form.

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