BY ROBIN KHATSERNOV
This year, as part of its commitment to the Bethpage Best of the Boro Program and to small businesses across Queens during this difficult time, Bethpage Federal Credit Union organized the Best Small Business Role Model Giveaway – offering Bethpage Best of the Boro winners an opportunity to share how they have given back during the pandemic to support first responders, their community and those in need.
Our editors have chosen two businesses to feature and each will be given a $2,500 marketing grant for any Schneps Media digital or print properties, including the Queens Courier, Ridgewood Times, Flushing Times and Boro Magazine. We spoke with Michael Ro and Katherine Fuchs, the owners of the two winning businesses, about their charity work.
Champions Martial Arts makes frontline workers’ days a little sweeter
Master Michael Ro, owner and head instructor at Flushing Champions Martial Arts, had no choice but to temporarily close his studio when the pandemic hit this spring. While he understood that this was a necessary step to keep his students safe, he was worried about how he would pay rent and feed his family with no source of income. Thankfully, his savings allowed him to keep the business afloat.
And while having to close down during the peak of the shutdown was tough to say the least, Ro knew that frontline workers were in even more precarious positions.
“The situation was so bad and I saw what [they were] going through and I just felt their pain,” he recalled. “And even though I had it bad, I could tell they had it a lot worse.”
Flushing CMA regularly participates in charity work and puts on fundraisers for its community, and this moment presented another major opportunity to give back. The school decided to team up with a Flushing-based eatery, Spot Dessert Bar, to provide sweets to the community heroes.
“I saw a lot of people giving food, but as soon as they already have some food, maybe they want some milk, desserts and things like that,” Ro said. “So, that’s where I kind of came up with the idea.”
He felt that in the spirit of giving, it only made sense to support another local business while helping nurses, doctors and other healthcare staff. The team began delivering to local health facilities, but soon realized it would need to gather more funds to sustain the initiative.
Ro had already been teaching virtual Tae Kwon Do classes through Zoom since his facility closed, so he started putting on fun virtual events for his students—bingo, pictionary, charades and even magic shows—while asking for donations from parents. Flushing CMA then used one hundred percent of the proceeds towards its community drive.
Ro and his students reached out to first responder facilities across Queens, bringing ice cream, cookies and other desserts to those who responded. Over the course of two months, they delivered to numerous facilities including the 109th precinct, NYU Winthrop Hospital, FDNY EMS Station 10, St. Mary’s Children Hospital, College Point USPS and Mount Sinai Queens Hospital. They also fed families of students which had parents in the healthcare field.
As with all of the center’s community service projects, the purpose was purely altruistic.
“We didn’t do this to get anything back. We just wanted to show our appreciation to the frontline workers and everyone going through tough times,” Ro said. “That was our goal.”
To learn more about Flushing Champions Martial Arts, visit championstkd.com/stores/martial-arts-of-school-in-queens/
The Thirsty Koala’s Gluten-Free Giveaway
Like many restaurant owners at the beginning of the shutdown, Chef Katherine Fuchs was facing an uncertain future. The owner and head chef of the Australian gluten-free eatery The Thirsty Koala had to let her entire front house staff go to cut costs. She was worried about when she’d be able to hire her employees back, and whether the government would adequately take care of them. At the same time, she significantly increased her hours as well as those of her kitchen staff, relying on takeout and delivery services to get her restaurant through the tough period.
While grappling with this new reality, Fuchs saw the toll that the COVID-19 crisis was taking on first responders and frontline workers. She had spent nearly 30 years in the FDNY, working as a chief in the Bronx before her retirement in 2010, and was also a former paramedic. Her husband was an active EMS worker and her son a police officer.
“I knew what they were up against. I still keep in touch with people who worked with me,” Fuchs said. “They were beaten down and exhausted and I felt, you know, ‘why shouldn’t I help them?’”
So she gave back the best way she knew how. Fuchs and her crew brought The Thirsty Koala to those on the frontlines in Queens, cooking up specialties like Australian skirt steak and gluten-free pasta onsite and delivering meals as care packages. After documenting and posting about a few of her visits on social media, followers began to send donations to fund the effort and further energized it.
The team fed numerous FDNY EMS Stations, the COVID Unit at NewYork Presbyterian Queens, the Internal Medicine residents at Flushing Hospital and the Boys and Girls Club of Queens.
Fuchs not only got joy from helping those in need, but also from revisiting her past as a frontline worker.
“I had a lot of fun going because I reconnected with people who have a lot of tenure on the job,” she said. “[It] kind of brought back a little bit of the old and intermingled with the new—the new traditions, the new kids that are working out on the ambulance right now.”
And although she’s retired from the fire department and EMS, Fuchs sees her culinary profession as a continuation of her service to the community.
“I’ll never stop giving. As long as I can give — even when I can’t give — I’ll figure out a way to give, because there are people who are worse shape than I am,” she said.
Check out The Thirsty Koala’s menu at thethirstykoala.com