Mandarins Serving Seniors During COVID-19 Crisis

At the Mandarins we have always had pride in being one of the best fed drum corps. With no touring in 2020 we are pleased to be able to share our food with local seniors in need. Thank you Mandarins Board Chair and chef extraordinaire Joe Fong for leading this wonderful program!

By Chris Weber. Reprinted from Drum Corps International.

After the sounds of music rehearsals and lively bingo games went silent in the Mandarins’ Sacramento-based headquarters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now the clanking of pots and pans that are bringing the facility back to life.

The Mandarins are operating as part of the California government’s “Great Plates Delivered” program, a meal service started in April in response to COVID-19 to help seniors and other adults at high risk.

“It is intended as a way for restaurants to stay in business by providing meals for seniors who have difficulty feeding themselves because of the shelter in place orders,” said Mandarins President and CEO Jim Tabuchi. “We are asked to provide three meals a day for them, seven days a week.”

The organization is able to do this thanks to the brand-new Mandarins Music Center, a multi-purpose facility that houses its bingo operation as well as offices and music rehearsal space. One of the additions prior to the building’s opening this past January was a commercial kitchen outfitted via a generous donation from alumni parents Gloria and Raul Alvarez.

The kitchen is health certified by the Sacramento County Health Department and has been officially classified as the “Mandarins Restaurant” as part of the government-subsidized program.

Stepping into the role of head chef is Joe Fong, a longtime Mandarins volunteer who serves as chair of the organization’s board of directors.

“I would say it’s his dream to become a restaurateur, and he’s actually a really great chef,” Tabuchi said about Fong with a laugh. “Joe works with some of our bingo crew and snack bar crew, and we’ve been able to bring them back on staff and pay them, and they’re doing something that’s really good for the community.”

What originally started off as prepping 12 meals a day has quickly increased to 45 as needs have grown in the community. Tabuchi says that they are approved to handle four times that amount if needed moving forward. After prepping the meals at the Mandarins Music Hall, government workers make the pickup and deliveries within the community.

“This program is a win-win-win for all,” Tabuchi said. “The seniors win in that they are getting nutritious meals delivered to their homes for free. The City of Rancho Cordova wins in that they are taking care of their most vulnerable citizens during their time of need. The Mandarins win in that we are providing for our community and making a little money as well.”

This latest pivot due to the COVID-19 pandemic is just one shining example of the Mandarins organization’s continued commitment to its local community.

“We do view our organization as being community based, and I think we definitely got away from that for a while, as you see a lot of drum corps these days where not a single member comes from their hometown,” Tabuchi said. “We’re fortunate, we still have at least 20 percent of our membership that comes from the immediate area.”

Tabuchi says that the organization has made a conscious effort over the last few years to reengage with the community whether it be performances in local parades, providing the drum line for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, or teaching music to young students as part of a Mandarins initiative that currently brings 20 music programs to 15 local elementary schools.

“We used to be called the best kept secret (in the Sacramento area) and now people say, ‘I see you everywhere,’” Tabuchi said. “The community approach is very important to us.”

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