A friend describes Steven Yee as a good man with a big heart.
Yee, 57, owner of Chi Thai Restaurant, 5577 N. Hamilton Road in Columbus, has regularly covered school lunch costs for students in need in several school districts, in addition to supporting youth athletics in New Albany, where he lives.
Steven Dove, who nominated Yee as an Everyday Hero, said he became acquainted with Yee through youth athletics. “Every time we needed support, we knew we could go to him (for) Little League baseball, youth league football through high school sponsorships and fundraisers,” said Dove, who has known Yee for more than a decade. “He would always find a way to help.”
Dove said Yee also has paid off the accounts of families who have had negative balances for school meals.
“His help was never felt to be conditional, and he never sought recognition,” Dove said. “He is a good man with a big heart who seemingly wants to share his success in order that others might be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities America has to offer.”
David Gawel, a member of the Rotary Club of Gahanna, said in the 16 years he has known Yee, he has always been a generous supporter of youth athletics in Gahanna and New Albany.
In 2008, Gawel said he and Yee collaborated on a project that financed the conversion of a baseball diamond to an officially sanctioned “American Little League” baseball facility. He said Yee has also always provided financial support for Rotary efforts.
“He is also very proactive in providing school lunches for kids and teens that can’t afford them in the Gahanna and Westerville school districts,” Gawel said. “As I always say, you can’t out nice Steve Yee.”
Yee, who graduated from Whitehall-Yearling High School in 1981 and Ohio State University in 1985, said he hopes more people can help others. “I’ve been lucky,” he said. “I got into helping school-lunch programs. It’s a shame (that), in the 21st-century, people can’t pay for lunch.”
Yee started his restaurant in 2007 and said he donates to charities instead of spending money on advertising.
His acquaintance with Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Superintendent Steve Barrett led to Yee anonymously paying off the balances of district students’ school lunches through the “Fill My Tummy” program. Then Yee learned the Westerville City School District had a large school-lunch-money shortfall and helped that district, he said.
Yee also provides two scholarships for Whitehall-Yearling students. “I told them to use their own discretion” in selecting recipients, he said.
When Yee’s son, Tyler, a recent New Albany High School graduate, was 7, Yee got him involved in Little League sports through New Albany Parks & Recreation.
“I was thinking about sponsoring my son’s team,” Yee said. “A commissioner was chitchatting with me. I said I would sponsor a team (for which) they couldn’t find sponsorship. I had no clue how many teams there were, 60-plus teams. There is lacrosse, basketball and football.”
He said he has sponsored over 100 teams annually. “Kids are most important. Sports keep kids out of trouble,” he said.
Yee also has answered the call to provide food to homeless and abused women who are victims of human trafficking.
A few years ago, a representative from the National Council of Jewish Women called him, Yee said. “She wanted to buy food in large quantity, because she said it was for these girls who were rescued (from human trafficking). They weren’t used to American food,” he said. “They wanted to see if I could give a discount. I felt bad, so I said I would feed them every day. I think there were 24. I fed them for three or four months. I helped them get apartments. I arranged a few jobs for them.”
He said he doesn’t ever recall saying “no” when asked to help. Yee said his longtime girlfriend, Sue Situ, inspires him to do good.
“I do want to be a better person because of her,” he said.