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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs