News / USA

Betty Kwan Chinn Serves Up Meals for 500

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
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 Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid