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Project Restore Us provides culturally-specific food in Greater Boston

Huong Ly (right) and her husband, Nhon Nguyen, sorted the food items that were delivered by volunteer driver Chloe Ho.
Huong Ly (right) and her husband, Nhon Nguyen, sorted the food items that were delivered by volunteer driver Chloe Ho.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

QUINCY — Huong Ly was all smiles when she received a delivery of dry goods and fresh produce at her Quincy home Sunday afternoon.

“I feel happy,” she said, as she cheerfully appraised her box of fruit and vegetables.

Ly, 67, said she is not able to walk well because of health problems. Ly’s delivery is a part of a program created by Project Restore Us, an organization conceived by community organizers and chefs during the pandemic to supply food from restaurants to people in the Greater Boston area.

Marena Lin, a cofounder of Project Restore Us, said the idea began in the spring of last year when she couldn’t find a bag of flour amid shortages of flour, meat, and other goods. In her search, Lin reached out to her friend, Tracy Chang, the owner of PAGU restaurant in Cambridge, who was quickly able to provide her flour.

This interaction sparked an idea to help both people who lack the capacity to search out products that are flying off store shelves, as well as restaurants that were struggling to operate, Lin said.

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“If I had trouble finding food, as someone with a PhD in a higher [socioeconomic status] in general, what were folks doing who didn’t have the same kind of access that I did?” she said.

Lin and Chang built a team of organizers and local chefs to expand the initiative and partner with community organizations to identify people who needed food.

Lin said it was important for the project to provide “culturally appropriate food” to diverse communities such as Quincy, Everett, and Dorchester, as food banks often don’t provide culturally specific foods for the groups they serve.

“We had this really unique opportunity to take the expertise of these chefs and their knowledge of ingredients, take the preferences of the community organizers and what they heard from their recipients, and really craft these boxes that people have loved,” Lin said.

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On Sunday, Ly, who is Vietnamese, received boxes of staple foods used in her culture’s cuisine, such as jasmine rice, bok choy, and eggs. She said she appreciated receiving fresh food right to her door, especially from a delivery team that is “kind and friendly.”

Chloé Ho, 20, who made the delivery to Ly, said she said was filling in for her mother, a volunteer for the organization. Ho said she is Chinese and her family’s involvement was “about giving back to the Asian community.”

Since it began in May 2020, Project Restore Us has delivered food to more than 8,000 households in Greater Boston, according to the organization. Lin said the group now has connections with restaurants that help purchase and package Latino, Asian, and other culturally specific foods from wholesale suppliers.

And this work is just beginning, Lin said. The project has begun supplying farmers’ markets with dried goods, particularly in areas such as Mattapan and Dorchester, with large populations of residents from the Caribbean who eat traditional meals of rice and beans.

Recipients appreciate the care packages tailored to their needs and tastes, as Ly demonstrated.

“I would like to say thank you so much!” Ly said as she unpacked her boxes.







Alexandra Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@globe.com.