News / USA

Betty Kwan Chinn Serves Up Meals for 500

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

After being thrust into homelessness as a child in China, Betty Kwan Chinn now feeds hundreds of hungry people in California.
After being thrust into homelessness as a child in China, Betty Kwan Chinn now feeds hundreds of hungry people in California.

Betty Kwan Chinn knows what it is like to be poor.  

A victim of persecution in her native China, she grew up on the street, hungry and homeless, but was able to emigrate to the United States more than 25 years ago.  Ever since, she's been helping to feed the poor and homeless in her adopted California community.

Hungry and homeless

Chinn will never forget what it feels like to go without. Although she was born to a wealthy family, her world fell apart was she was seven years old.

The 1960s was a time of political and social upheaval in China. Her family became a target of the Cultural Revolution and her mother and brothers were imprisoned or sent to labor camps. She ended up alone on the streets of Kai Ping, China.

"Every time when I asked for food, I was beaten up by people," she recalls. "At that moment, I told myself, 'When I grew up, if I'm still alive, I'll make a lot of food to give to people who are hungry to eat.'"

After four years of begging on the street, Chinn says, she became mute and felt like an animal. With help from one of her sisters, who had immigrated to the United States, she escaped to Hong Kong, then on to the United States. She was 14.

Coming to America

"I had never been to school," she says. "I stayed home. Then I found my best friends on Sesame Street. They were the ones who taught me English."

Gradually, Chinn got her voice back and started to speak English, becoming part of American society. She met and married Leung Chinn, a Humboldt State University professor. They have two sons, and live in Eureka, a working class community in northern California.

In 1984, an elementary school classmate of her older son told her she was often hungry. Chinn started to pack an extra sandwich in her son's lunchbox for her. When she learned the girl's family was living in a van in a nearby parking lot, she began to provide meals for them, too.

She recalls how shocked she was to see how many other people were in the same situation, and decided to make it her mission to provide for the less fortunate in her community.

Betty Kwan Chinn loads up her catering truck and delivers food to people living on the street.
Betty Kwan Chinn loads up her catering truck and delivers food to people living on the street.

Feeding the hungry

"I'd do anything I could do to make people not hungry," she says. "When I even hear somebody say, 'I'm hungry,' my stomach hurts. I feel the hunger inside me. I still remember the hunger."

She used income from her part-time job to buy food, which she would load into her catering truck and deliver to people living on the street, under bridges and highways, anywhere she could find them. At first, she didn't tell anyone about what she was doing - not even her husband.

"He did ask me, from time to time, 'Why are you cooking so much food? Why we buy so much food from the supermarket?'"

Betty Kwan Chinn receives the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal - the nation's second highest civilian award - from President Barack Obama.
Betty Kwan Chinn receives the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal - the nation's second highest civilian award - from President Barack Obama.

When he eventually found out, 10 years later, Chinn says he became her biggest supporter. She now provides daily meals for around 500 people in Eureka.

'More like a mom'

"I'm not a nonprofit, I'm more like a mom," she says. "I do coffee and doughnuts in the morning. I do sandwiches or hot food in the afternoon. Beside the people who live on the street or in a car, I find a lot of mentally ill people on the street. I really want to take care of these people who need my help. If I don't go there, they don't know how to start their day. They don't even begin their day."

Though she never publicized what she was doing, Chinn's efforts were noticed and appreciated. In 2008, she received the Minerva Award for remarkable women from California's first lady, Maria Shriver.

"When Maria Shriver gave me $25,000," she says."Then it was the first time I spoke up in my community. I said, 'We need help.' I needed to build a shower for the homeless. We got a place to build a shower. We opened it last March."

Chinn's accomplishments have inspired others and drawn attention to the problem of hunger and homelessness in her community. She says there's still work to do.

"I dream someday I can have a place called, 'Betty's Place,' so anybody hungry coming to my house will have a chair to sit and eat," she says. "I don't want to open a shelter. I just want a place where I can build a bridge for them so someday they will return to the society. That's my dream. I'll have two doctors. I'll have a dentist. I'll have a psychologist to help me out."

Chinn was one of 13 recipients of the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama, the nation's second highest civilian award. She was honored for showing how one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people whom the rest of the world has forgotten.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid