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Fund shortage squeezes Korean Catholic free lunch center

Thomas House in Seoul has been providing free lunches to poor people since 1993

Fund shortage squeezes Korean Catholic free lunch center

Poor people receive free lunch boxes from volunteers at Thomas House in South Korean capital Seoul. (Photo: Catholic Times of Korea)

Published: April 26, 2022 06:42 AM GMT

Updated: April 26, 2022 06:49 AM GMT

A Catholic-run center providing free lunches to hundreds of poor and homeless people in South Korean capital Seoul is struggling to continue its service amid a funding shortage due largely to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Established in 1993, Thomas House near Yeongdeungpo subway station in Seoul offers free lunches of rice balls, curries and fruits to impoverished people from Monday to Friday, Catholic Times of Korea reported on April 24.

The number of visitors seeking free lunches increased three to five times during the prolonged pandemic, while funds have depleted during this period. More than 300 people seek free lunches each day.

Before the pandemic started, the visitors could have their meals inside the facility, but lunch boxes are distributed to people who line up in front of the center five days a week.

Now visitors are also required to wear masks and wash hands before receiving the lunch boxes in eco-friendly bags.

Center manager Teresa Park Gyeong-ok said that despite the financial difficulties and increasing number of poor people, volunteers continue to prepare meals from early morning to mid-day.

“Although we are aware that due to the pandemic only large free meal facilities are receiving regular funds, we still hope we can continue this service”

Donations to the center significantly declined during the pandemic, said Park. “There were times when we wondered whether we could provide lunch for people the next day or not,” she said.

Thomas House has operated in a rented building and relies mostly on individual and group donations as well as sporadic funding from the government and non-government organizations.

Park says the center will continue its services as volunteers are determined to show “God’s mercy” for needy people.

“God’s mercy is not just spoken in words, but it must be put into practice in our daily lives. Although we are aware that due to the pandemic only large free meal facilities are receiving regular funds, we still hope we can continue this service,” she said.

Myeongdong Bajib is another church-run soup kitchen at Myeongdong Cathedral of Seoul Archdiocese that provides some 1,400 packed lunches to poor people each week.

Such facilities are crucial for poor people in South Korea. Official statistics says about 15 percent or one of every six South Koreans out of an estimated population of 51.7 million live in poverty despite their nation being the fourth-largest economy in Asia.

South Korea has the fourth-highest rate of relative poverty among 38 global economies, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

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