May is AAPI Heritage Month, a celebration of the vast and diverse contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the U.S., and a recognition that the AAPI community is integral to our nation’s success - past, present and future. This month’s “In the Spotlight” honorees fully embody this, dedicating their time and talents to advocating for their heritage and community.
Citizen of the Month: Joe Garbanzos
Joe Garbanzos is the epitome of a trusted messenger. He works to better his community by lending a voice to those whose message needs amplifying, and finding innovative ways to reach diverse and hard-to-reach populations.
Joe is a widely-respected advocate for seniors and, in March 2021, was appointed State President of AARP-CA - the first Filipino American in that role - where he represents 3 million members and 5,500-plus volunteers throughout the state. In this role he advocates for livable communities, caregiving and social impact agenda for seniors aged 50 and older.
Prior to being appointed president, Joe served on AARP-CA’s Executive Council for six years and was volunteer leader for Asian American Pacific Islander outreach. He also co-chairs the CA Telehealth Coalition, which advocates for fair access to telehealth services and works to protect telehealth gains for vulnerable populations achieved during the pandemic. He was an integral part of one of the tele-town halls my office hosted early in the pandemic, ensuring critical information reached diverse populations, some of whom were not used to doing things virtually.
Joe also serves as a member of the San Diego County Aging and Independence Services Advisory Council, advocating for residents and caregivers in nursing homes and residential care facilities in the region. Throughout the pandemic he has assisted isolated seniors in National City and Chula Vista with Food Bank deliveries.
Please join me in congratulating Joe on his new role with AARP-CA, and thanking him for all he does to improve outreach and education to our community’s most vulnerable.
Nonprofit of the Month: Open Gym
Open Gym is a Creative Collective started by renowned chef Phillip Esteban, a National City native well known for his culinary expertise and ventures. The self-sustaining nonprofit operates as a collection of projects focused on bettering the community and serving underprivileged communities. In its portfolio are projects such as Craft Meals Catering and White Rice, and in-development projects WellFed and Wordsmith.
When the pandemic began, Chef Esteban and his team were getting ready to open their first brick-and-mortar. But with the new restrictions and changing business landscape, they had to adjust their business model. They also knew that many Filipino Americans were being affected by COVID-19, from frontline hospital workers to furloughed employees. Open Gym leapt into action and partnered with World Central Kitchen to start delivering meals to hospital employees, eventually expanding the effort to today having donated more than 100,000 meals to communities in need.
Another example of how Open Gym uses its business ventures to give back to the community is its buy-one, give-one model. For every meal purchased from White Rice, Open Gym matches and donates to those in need. Current distribution partners include the San Diego Food Bank, Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center, A Reason to Survive (ARTS) in National City and local community organizations.
I’m looking forward to seeing what else Chef Esteban and his team cook up!