O.C. Steps Up: Free Food Fridays at Recess Room

To help us stay positive during these challenging times of mostly bad news, we’re sharing uplifting stories happening right here in Orange County. Be sure to check out the May issue of Orange Coast for many such profiles; in the meantime, we offer a few tidbits to make you happy now. Check our homepage regularly for O.C. Steps Up—anecdotes about your neighbors doing whatever they can to lift the community.

Recess Room in Fountain Valley started hosting Free Food Fridays the week the shelter-in-place order was announced.

“Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding our business, we felt it was important for us to give back to the community,” owner Viet Pham says. “We were in a difficult position, but we knew there was an immediate need for furloughed employees, homebound seniors, and students who relied on their school lunches.”

The free, grab-and-go meals for students and seniors change weekly and have included pasta bolognese, Thai chicken curry and rice, Mediterranean couscous, and pasta amatriciana. The restaurant, named one of Orange Coast’s Best New Restaurants in 2018, quickly transitioned from a gourmet dining experience to a more casual, takeout-friendly format by offering things like cocktail kits, charcuterie boxes, and barbecue bento boxes with palm sugar baked beans, coleslaw, and brown butter cornbread to-go.

On top of Free Food Fridays, Recess Room is also partnering with Viet-Care to provide meals every Sunday to those in need and took part in “Nailing It For America,” a campaign started by nail salons to support healthcare workers by donating PPE and free meals.

“Tam Nguyen, the owner of Advanced Beauty College, formed a fundraising campaign because they have a stockpile of PPE (masks and face shields) for their own business,” says Pham. “We’ve been donating and delivering meals to local hospitals, homeless shelters, and senior homes.”

In time for the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, Recess Room and Advanced Beauty College encouraged other restaurants and nail salons in the county and nationwide to join an ongoing “Giving Challenge.”

“Vietnamese-American communities in San Jose, Utah, Boston, Texas, Houston, Dallas, Viriginia, New York, and even outside the U.S. in Toronto all teamed up and did what we did,” says Pham.

UCI Medical Center doctors also stepped up and donated about 2,000 free COVID-19 tests as part of the challenge.

Pham hopes to continue efforts to give back to local communities even after COVID-19.

“We plan to do this indefinitely,” says Pham. “We’re working with a lot of nonprofits to provide meals for those that need it.”

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