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A Roadside Chat with Sarah Baker, community member who started a Facebook group to support Chinatown – International District businesses last year

A take out meal from Jade Garden, one of Sarah's favorite restaurants in the C-ID

Welcome back to the Chinatown-International District! The City of Seattle and partners are teaming up to welcome you back downtown to enjoy our beautiful Seattle summers with three large-scale events taking place in the Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square, and Westlake.  

To kick off our Welcome Back Weeks, we’re hosting a two-day celebration of local food and culture at Hing Hay Park on July 17 and 18! This event is free, and all are welcome.

To Sarah Baker, like countless other Seattleites, Seattle’s Chinatown – International District (C-ID) is a place of home to her even though she’s never actually lived there.

Along with its small mom and pop shops, dim sum restaurants, bubble tea cafes, and Asian grocery store, it’s a place of generational knowledge, community, and connection. That’s why in early March 2020, as the early cases of COVID-19 were being discovered in Washington, Sarah jumped into action to support people and businesses in the Chinatown – International District.

Sarah and her friends created a Facebook group called Support the ID – Community United that had more than 20 thousand people join in just over a month!

The group started to encourage people to patronize Asian-owned businesses in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, and in weeks it grew into a community where people shared photo memories of their favorite meals and innovative opportunities to support businesses during a changing and uncertain time. For example, when most Seattle area farmers markets closed last spring, Hmong flower farmers, who own about 80% of flower stands at Seattle area farmers markets, posted on the Support the ID – Community United page and shared ways that people could purchase their flowers.  

The Support the ID –Community United Facebook group itself was short lived, as Sarah and her co-founders decided to sunset the group in July 2020 after it grew beyond their capacity, however they’re still seeing ripple effects from group today. 

We had a Roadside Chat with Sarah learn more about the lasting impact of the virtual community, especially as the city continues to recover from the pandemic and more people are out and about.  

Hi Sarah, to start off this Roadside Chat, can you tell me a little about yourself? 

I was born and raised in Seattle. On my mom’s side, I’m a third generation Japanese American. My maternal grandparents met while my grandfather was in Japan during World War II, and they moved to Seattle in 1958. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the C-ID and frequently visited my grandmother while she worked at Uwajimaya.  

I attended Summit K-12, a Seattle public school that was focused on arts and sciences, and it really influenced my commitment to activism later in life. Currently, I work at Communities Rise, a nonprofit that serves other nonprofits and small businesses in the state of Washington. We provide pro-bono legal and capacity building services, primarily serving low income, communities of color, or other marginalized folks. I’m also on the board of the Japanese American Citizens League

Screen shot of the Support the ID – Community United Facebook page when it it 10,000 members.

What prompted you and your friends to create the Support the ID – Community United Facebook group in March 2020?  

In early February 2020, before COVID-19 became a serious problem in Washington State or the US, Seattle’s C-ID started to see a decline in foot traffic and small businesses were starting to suffer. Back then, we knew little about the virus or how it spread, and rumors started spreading. Terms like “China-virus” evoked racism towards Asian and Pacific Island communities.  

When I saw the stores I love to suffer, I thought: what can I do? I couldn’t be there every day to spend my money at every single restaurant and shop, but I could go more often, and I could encourage others to go more often, too.

I started by posting comments on my personal Facebook page that named a few of my favorite places in the C-ID and encouraged my friends to visit them. Then, after talking with some friends, we decided to create a Facebook group so others could share positive stories and happy photos of them enjoying takeout. It was a way for people to connect with one another when we couldn’t physically be together.  

Our goal was to build a virtual community to support small Asian-owned businesses. 

As the page grew, we started a GoFundMe page to support both local C-ID businesses and frontline workers in the community. We crowdsourced money and used the funds to purchase over 800 meals from various C-ID restaurants and donate the meals to healthcare workers.  

What did you learn from this virtual Facebook community?

I learned how resilient community is. There’re examples of this all the time, but last year was such a strange period. It was the beginning of Covid, no one knew what was going on, and everyone was scared.  

To see thousands of people quickly come together around a common cause was incredible. I was again reminded that it takes a village. You absolutely cannot do this stuff alone and you need people working together and supporting one another to continue efforts like this. 

What lasting positive impact did the group have on the community? 

Even though we shut down the initial group because it grew beyond our capacity to moderate comments, a few lasting groups were born from this movement. One is a private Facebook group that organizes walks through the C-ID to keep an eye on the neighborhood and make sure stores and buildings aren’t being vandalized. They also pass out mutual aid to the houseless population in the area. 

Before we end this chat, who’s someone you look up to? 

Kerry Taniguchi. His ability to give and give and give, and expect nothing in return, is something I admire. Kerry was born and raised within the C-ID and is 100% the most selfless person I know. He’ll donate his time and his money to help people in the community. He’s the type of person who won’t acknowledge the service he’s doing, because to him, it’s just what you should be doing. He has deep institutional knowledge of our community, how it’s changed overtime, who some of the key players are and how we can support each other. 

In partnership with Seattle Department of Neighborhoods (DON), we distributed more than 1,500 six-month unlimited ORCA cards to employees in Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square to help get Seattle employees to work affordably and efficiently! 

Our Roadside Chat series spotlights our staff and community members who work to make our streets safer, communities stronger, and city more equitable. Check recent Roadside Chats with Ed EwingBecky EdmondsPauh WangJess Kim, and more