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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid