Anu Pattabiraman ’10 credits volunteering at the Pace Center for Civic Engagement during her undergraduate years with instilling in her the importance of service and giving back. It’s the reason why Pattabiraman, who recently moved back to her Forest Hills neighborhood in Queens, couldn’t sit back and watch her favorite eateries begin to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was sad to see my once-vibrant neighborhood decline,” said Pattabiraman, who works as a school curriculum developer. Eager to help struggling businesses, she began researching possible grants and loans that businesses could apply for, but unfortunately “much of the funding had already dried up.”
She knew she needed help to develop and implement ideas on how best to support the eateries. Using Tigernet, she searched out area alumni and found like-minded Princetonians eager to join the effort: Support Forest Hills Eateries. Volunteers include Andrew Goh ’19, Christina Sue ’19, Sarah Schneider ’20, Linda Shookster ’77 and Marcia Parness ’88. Students Victoria Agwam ’23 and Liam Lonergan ’23 also joined the team as part of the Service Focus program at the University, which helps students connect their academic study with real-world service experience. “It’s been incredible to see everyone rally around helping local eateries through the pandemic, getting involved in everything from website design to community outreach. We’re all hands on deck!” Pattabiraman said.
Among SFHE’s earliest initiatives was building an online directory that included critical information on about 90 local eateries, such as which businesses were actually opened, their hours and how to order food. Through e-mails, e-newsletters, leaflets and a strong social media initiative, SFHE got the word out about the directory to residents. The group has a Facebook group and Instagram account where they share regular updates about the eateries.
“Through talking to residents and business owners, we learned that many people didn’t even know which businesses were opened and how best to interact with them,” Pattabiraman said. “For example, some customers didn’t realize that ordering takeout through apps or other third-party vendors is expensive for the restaurant owner, so we were doing a lot of education.”
Using the directory as a foundation, the group further developed its communications by building a comprehensive website that serves both customers and businesses. Beyond the directory, the customer or “Community” portal includes information on purchasing gift cards, ordering food, donating money, advocating for businesses and how to support Queens Together, an organization that supports both restaurants and those in need. Using donations, Queens Together pays local eateries to deliver food to residents who are struggling to afford meals.
The website also provides invaluable information for the small business owner. For example, the FAQ section offers public health guidance, financial relief information and information on how to set up gift cards to increase sales.
“Speaking to food business owners in Forest Hills, we have found that many aren’t focused on direct aid — they just want customers to know that they’re open and looking to continue business safely,” Pattabiraman said.
Learn more by visiting the Support Forest Hills Eateries website.