Volunteer Match is an online platform designed to connect people who want to volunteer with worthy organizations. I was poking around on the site recently when I discovered Uncle Sam’s Immigrant Café, a non-profit designed to celebrate the diversity in food and culture of America and show that, despite our differences, we can unite around a common table.
The volunteer match caught my attention immediately: “Do you love ethnic food?” The task was simple – eat at your favorite ethnic restaurant, interview the restaurateur, write about the experience, and post the review to the website. This combined all of my favorite things: eating, writing… I guess just eating and writing.
Regardless, I was intrigued and connected with Ajay – already thinking about my favorite Ethiopian spot, my favorite Greek restaurant…
A few days later, I came to terms with my very ink-ridden planner and realized I needed to take a step back. A few minutes later, I realized I still had this strong desire to share Ajay’s vision with the world – and especially with the Smile Project community.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce Ajay and Uncle Sam’s Immigrant Café.
Liz: Let's start in traditional Smile Project fashion - give me a "Happiness is.." Ajay: Happiness is hanging out with family and friends and feeling that I am making a difference in the world.
Liz: Tell me a little bit about Uncle Sam’s Immigrant Café.
Ajay: Launched in December 2017, Uncle Sam’s Immigrant Café is a San Francisco/Bay Area 501c3 non-profit organization. Our mission is to build cultural awareness in the American population and promote the businesses of our immigrant restaurateurs. I am helped by my partner in this project, Doug Meckelson who has extensive non-profit experience and runs his own non-profit, the Elder Wisdom Circle on the side.
For centuries immigrants have flocked to these shores in pursuit of the American Dream. In doing so, they have brought with them aspects of their food and culture that have now been amalgamated to what we have come to know as Modern American cuisine. It may surprise many to learn that something as American as ketchup had its origins in Indonesia or that salsa has dethroned ketchup as the leading condiment in America.
Our hope is for this website to celebrate American diversity… to show that despite our differences we are one country where everyone dreams of a better life. We launched initially with a Bay Area focus, but have since gone national, publishing new features every week.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do? Ajay: The driving force behind this organization is my passion for food and social justice.... I believe they combine perfectly in this venture!
Liz: What does "service" mean to you? Ajay: Service to me is alleviating the everyday burden a number of us in our community face. It could be as simple as a smile to a stranger; mitigating at least some of the discord in our society is what I strive for.
Liz: How can people get involved? Ajay: Visit our site and spread the word via social media. Help celebrate American diversity by breaking bread at a communal global table.
Readers are encouraged to submit their own ethnic restaurant reviews which we will post in the ‘Suggested Restaurants’ tab. Over time, we hope to create a significant catalog of user-submitted content featuring immigrant restaurateurs nationwide.
Liz: Do you have a last piece of advice? Ajay: Live life to the fullest...no regrets, ever! Life is way too short... Strive to make a difference.