A life’s work of 18 years and 3 million servedIt was seven in the morning. Noh Hwa-ja, 48, pruned the seaweed in front of her, so she could put it into the soup she was preparing for lunch ― she would need enough for about 1,000 people.
Ms. Noh was one of three women in the small kitchen ― 142 square feet ― where she has worked once a month for the last five years. She’s still a relative newcomer; the “Bappeo Nanum Campaign,” whose name literally means, “scooping up rice and sharing,” is now in its 18th year. Ms. Noh said she was was proud to continue the work of cooking for the homeless in Dongdaemun-gu, northern Seoul.
According to the charity, last Saturday one if its 30,000 volunteers so far served its 3 millionth bowl of rice. The campaign feeds the largest group of homeless in Seoul ― sometimes the line for a bowl of rice and hot soup stretches as long as 100 meters (328 feet) outside the kitchen.
Led by the Reverend Choe Il-do, the Dail Welfare Foundation started the campaign in 1988. The reverend decided to start the campaign after a homeless man came to him and begged for a bowl of ramen. At the time, he was getting ready to study abroad, but after seeing the homeless man scarfing down the cup of noodles, he scrapped the plan to study and decided to launch a free-lunch charity. The campaign has since spread to China, Cambodia and the Philippines.
“Hey you, don’t just stand there,” yelled Yoo Byeong-ok, 50, one of the volunteers, to a reporter on his first day of volunteering. “Put on the gloves and come over here.”
Mr. Yoo’s job is to supervise the volunteers and make sure the lunch line is kept in order. A man with a tough look and a soft-hearted demeanor, he joined the group three years ago after dropping by for a look out of curiosity. He said washing plates for the charity led him to become a born-again Christian a few years ago and made him want to help those in need. When at work, though, he has the bearing of a drill instructor.
The menu for that day was cooked rice with seaweed soup, japchae, or glass noodles with meat and vegetable, and seasoned sesame leaf in chili sauce ― all rather tasty. The charity serves three side dishes with a bowl of rice everyday. The rice and kimchi are prepared a few days in advance, but the other ingredients are purchased on the same day to maintain freshness.
Next to Ms. Noh, Mr. Yoo started to pour a mix of carrots, diced beef, onions and leeks into a gigantic frying pan. His shirt was soon soaked with sweat.
“In summer, the temperature here goes over 50 degrees (122 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said. “After seeing it last year, a group of volunteers from the SK Marathon Club gave us an air-conditioner, but it’s still too hot in here.”
At 10 a.m., just as the two were almost done preparing the meal, about 20 people, including parents and employees from nearby homes and workplaces, came in to help serve lunch to the hungry crowd.
At 10:55 p.m., the line in front of the charity was forming. A lot of them had already found their seats at the table for the meal. Many said grace, or at least some form of thanks, before digging in.
“I think I’m the youngest here,” said one 70-year-old man. “There must be those in their 80s and 90s here.”
Mr. Yoo said many of those who come in for lunch everyday would starve otherwise.
Many asked for seconds, while others packed food in canisters they brought with them. At the end of the day, the group had fed over 1,500 people, with the help of over 20,000 regular sponsors.
by Kwon Ho