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How a Free Meals Power Broker Spends His Sundays

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Winston Chiu, a co-founder of the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Rethink, helped his organization collect leftover food from corporate kitchens, restaurants and grocery stores. The food would then be repurposed into free, healthy meals and given to other organizations to distribute to the hungry.

Now he is facilitating monetary and food donations to Rethink’s partner restaurants, simply to keep them going.

Mr. Chiu, originally from Flatbush, Brooklyn, spends much of his day crisscrossing the boroughs, visiting partner restaurants, chefs and the community organizations that distribute the meals. In between it all, Mr. Chiu has found time to reflect.

“Before the pandemic, I was losing sight of many things in my life and work, so the shift we have all experienced has allowed me to step back, ask a lot of questions, and see the larger picture.”

Mr. Chiu, 33, also a partner in the catering company Bonbite and the restaurant Little Tong Noodle Shop, lives alone in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. He has a 2-year-old son, Hudson, who is currently living in Massachusetts.

FATHER AND SON BREAKFAST I normally get up around 6 a.m. I read, think, and stretch. I don’t eat until about 9, which is when I FaceTime with my son, Hudson, and we eat breakfast together. When the quarantine started, his mother and I decided it was best to isolate separately because I have a higher likelihood to be exposed to the virus because of my job. Right now, he’s having a good time with his cousins out of state. But it’s hard not seeing your own child for this long. I was surprised when I heard him say, “I’m going to the habah” — harbor — like he was a native Bostonian.

FRIEND CIRCUIT I used to live in SoHo and just love Hudson River Park around Pier 45. I like to head there on the weekend with three of my friends to exercise. We do a circuit training workout for about an hour then hang out. They’ve been good listeners: we talk about the craziness of the pandemic and what it’s doing to us.

BIG QUESTIONS This year, I saw myself change and experienced mood swings. The pandemic made me really think about who I should surround myself with. I was disappointed when some close friends didn’t help out when I asked them to. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been asking themselves what makes them happy.

CHINATOWN CHECK-IN I’ve always loved to walk aimlessly around the city and am now getting that back into my routine. I like to physically see what’s going on in a neighborhood because you can’t get a good sense of that through a meeting. I head to Chinatown to check in with some merchant leaders and recently stopped by to see New York State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, whom I’ve known forever. We packed some personal protective equipment and picked up meals from 46 Mott Bakery, which we distributed to seniors and those displaced in Chinatown. You can see Chinatown has been hit so hard, there are so many shuttered stores. Everyone is very worried.

PARTNER MEET-UP For a late lunch, I head back over the river to check in on Katie O’s Soul Food, a partner restaurant in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. I get together with my co-workers Matthew Jozwiak and Nathan Ricke to plan out the coming week. I don’t see them every day because we’re all in various places during the week and aren’t at headquarters at the same time. We go over weekly reports, talk about logistics and our national partnerships. Mainly, we cover how our work can provide a bridge between restaurant owners and our mainstream partners and resources to empower an individual and a community.

LIFE OF A NOMAD To end my day, I usually take a three-mile run and then unwind at home. I’ve lead a nomadic life since the start of the pandemic and am exploring different places to live, like through Airbnb. I might look for another place this fall, but I’ll probably stick with Brooklyn. I FaceTime with Hudson again for a bedtime story. It’s hard to keep his attention because he’s 2 and he’s squirmy. I don’t watch TV. Instead, I meditate and then head to bed around 11.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Winston Chiu on Instagram @winstoncchiu.

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