Don’t you just love it when a social media influencer uses their fame for good? That’s exactly what TikTok star Brian Arya has been doing!
“To turn your head away from people who are out in the street is the opposite of what we should be doing,” said Brian Arya, whose TikTok videos have led to an outpouring of donations for those in need, to PEOPLE Magazine.
The New Jersey Motel That Welcomes Everyone
While Arya has high hopes for a career in showbiz, he helps pay his bills by running a New Jersey motel that was purchased by his dad decades ago. Arya’s dad, George, 83, immigrated to the US from India and been teaching his son the ins and outs of running a motel since he was a child. George has always been firm on “letting people off the hook” if they had trouble paying.
“What we’re doing here, and what we’ve always done at the Lincoln Tunnel Motel, is help people,” says Arya about the modest motel on a gritty stretch of North Bergen, New Jersey, where he grew up. The nondescript motel is just ten minutes from the famous Lincoln Tunnel that connects Weehawken, New Jersey to Midtown Manhattan in New York City.
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It was in 2019 that Arya discovered TikTok, starting an account about life at the @ltmotel and the daily drama and laughs he experiences.
Since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arya, known on social media as “Brian the Motel Guy,” told his then near 500,000 followers (now close to a million) that the economy motel was being made available to anyone who needed room to quarantine or simply stay because they had nowhere to go.
“When the pandemic hit, people were losing their homes, and local shelters were filling up quickly and turning people away,” Arya told the New York Post. Arya, 34, grew up in a neighboring motel that his father also owns. “And I wanted to help get people off of the streets, so I opened the doors of the Lincoln Tunnel Motel to anyone in the area.”
Arya’s #FreeRoomForU hashtag has since gone viral on TikTok, with his videos reaching a whopping 31 million likes!
The Lincoln Tunnel Motel has now offered shelter to more than 100 disenfranchised people who needed a helping hand, serving the mandate of aiding the under-resourced rather than turning a profit.
“Sometimes they come just to kind of get away from really bad situations,” said Arya, whose dad has since gifted Arya partial ownership of the motel. “Maybe a domestic situation and kind of hiding from that person. And those you can kind of spot.”
“I’m empathetic to people who really are honest with me, telling me their situation,” said Arya. “I try to help them out the best I can.”
The married father of four has shared his own struggles to keep his bills paid but continues to keep his focus on those more deeply in need.
“To turn your head away from unhoused people or people who are out in the street is the opposite of what we should be doing,” he said.
Arya’s TikTok followers wholeheartedly agreed and have been sending donations of non-perishable food, clothing, essential toiletries, and even cash to help Arya with the costs of helping his guests. He has also started an Amazon wishlist for his guests.
How One Motel Owner Proved the Importance of Kindness
The simplest items can make the greatest difference to those with very little.
“Do you know how valuable a clear toiletry bag is to someone out on the street that needs something to put their IDs and their documents in?” Arya explained to PEOPLE. “It’s just so useful for important papers you don’t want to get caught in the rain. We give those out like crazy.”
He also gives away donated soaps, wipes, and other toiletries.
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“I also make a little bag for them, a little (toiletry) gift bag because we now have a surplus of these items,” he said.
“This motel will always be the affordable place where local people who need shelter can stay and get support and respect from me and my employees,” he said
“I want the Lincoln Tunnel Motel to be a beacon of hope for this community and for my followers all over the world,” Arya told the New York Post. “And if the best thing I can do to spread that beam of hope is give a room to someone in need, then I’m happy to do so.”
Arya chooses kindness each and every day. And kindness always wins.