Nonprofit Spotlight: Chinese American Friendship Association

Last year, the Chinese American Friendship Association purchased masks from China and distributed them to Triangle healthcare workers. In this event from April, CAFA members Hui Hu, left, Cary Council Member Ya Liu, center, and CAFA Vice President Xilong Zhao, right, show their appreciation for doctors and nurses.

The Chinese American Friendship Association of North Carolina was created so Chinese Americans in the Triangle would have a space to support one another and build a strong community.

With more than 2,000 members, CAFA aims to foster friendships among Chinese and Chinese Americans, help members succeed in American society and promote Chinese culture through hosting community events.

“We are unique because we have this unique culture,” said Jianping Yang, president of the nonprofit. “We need this organization to help the Chinese community organize and help contribute to our [local] community.”

Boxes of masks and other PPE await distribution.

The nonprofit was founded in 1996 following the opening of the Raleigh Academy of Chinese Language, founded to pass on the Chinese language. The CAFA provided a community space for its members and sponsored various events highlighting Chinese culture.

“Our biggest event is the Taste of China event,” Yang said. “I mean everybody loves food, so that seems to be an event that easily attracts people to come.”

Held in October, the one-day event typically attracts over 20,000 visitors, with 50 restaurants, food vendors, arts and crafts, and about 30-50 other business vendors.

Community outreach efforts hosted by CAFA members in 2020 include dropping off masks and other supplies at UNC Medical Center.

The nonprofit also hosts the Chinese New Year Gala, an event that has been held every spring for more than 20 years, showcasing dance and other cultural performances. However, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization was forced to cancel this and other cultural events.

“We are not able to do as many events as possible. We are not able to do a membership promotion. Typically we go to different kinds of cultural events and try to increase our membership. We do these events to get our members and our community more engaged,” said Ya Liu, Cary Council member and an active participant in CAFA. “But we canceled all these events, and we do not know if we will be able to host any of these kinds of events this year.”

Though CAFA has had to halt many of its staple events this year, the pandemic has given the nonprofit an opportunity to help those affected by COVID-19. Initially, the organization provided equipment and donations so doctors in Wuhan, China, could purchase personal protective equipment. As the virus worsened in the United States, members of CAFA used their connections in China to supply PPE to doctors, nurses and hospitals in the Triangle.

“There was a severe shortage in masks, and we realized we have the connections to get equipment, because we had experience. …We are in a unique position to buy the masks and PPE and ship it here,” said Yang. “We felt like it was a good thing to help others. The richest country should not be in shortage of masks; it is ridiculous.”

Along with providing PPE to the local community, the organization realized there was a need for food distribution and donations to the food bank and local homeless shelters.

“On top of donating and distributing PPE, we also tried to help local restaurants that, because of the lockdown and regulations, were declining sharply. We tried to help those local restaurants by buying food, but we also donated the food to those who needed it,” said Xilong Zhao, current vice president and incoming president of CAFA. “It was kind of like killing two birds with one stone.”

Donating food to a local homeless shelter.

In total, CAFA collected $105,600 donations; $75,000 in cash donations allocated towards purchasing surgical masks, face shields, KN95 masks and disposable masks for the Triangle community, and $30,600 for food and more PPE.

While the group is nonpartisan, it aims to promote civic engagement through education, voter registration drives and candidate forums. Members of CAFA have been more interested in local politics and energized to become civically engaged following the election of Liu to the Cary Council and fellow Chinese American Hongbin Gu to the Chapel Hill Town Council.

“As an organization, we found it important to provide a platform for our members to know more about the candidates when they vote. We hosted the forums to connect the candidates to the voters and the voter registration drive because, in the Asian community, we know that traditionally the voter registration rate is low, so that was an effort to increase our voter turnout,” Liu said.

Masks and other personal protection equipment from China are packaged for shipment to North Carolina.

With COVID-19 continuing to be a concern, the nonprofit plans to hold its spring events virtually, including voter registration sessions, and forums on college planning, real estate, tax returns and photography.

For more information about the group and upcoming events visit

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