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Distributing food on the streets of Seoul
Written by Janghoon Lee | Published. 2020.03.18 11:06 | Count : 75

I started volunteering at an organization called “PLUR Seoul,” which feeds the homeless in the downtown area near Seoul Station. When I first started to volunteer, I was the only high school student participating in the program, as the rest of the volunteers were college students, adults, and foreigners visiting Korea. PLUR Seoul operates a weekly program where volunteers walk out into the streets, underpasses, and tunnels and deliver food to the homeless. On my first night volunteering, I was a bit intimidated by the homeless people gathered inside the community center, as some of them seemed to suffer from mental health issues. It was a large group of 16 volunteers that night, and we gathered in an office to pack the meals, which consisted of hard-boiled eggs, bread, candy, crackers, soy milk, and other assorted snacks. Each volunteer was given a large bag with about 10 meals inside to carry around and distribute. Before we headed out, the leader of the program gave us specific instructions, such as to give only one meal per person, not take pictures, not step on their cardboard shelters, ask for assistance if needed, avoid making a lot of noise, and say “have a nice meal” in Korean when handing out each bag.

[PLUR volunteers pose for a photo in Namdaemun]

We then made our way into subway stations to pass out the meals. At first, I was reluctant to hand out the meals because of my unfamiliarity with the situation. The homeless people had set up cardboard shelters all through the walkways, where some were sleeping while others were smoking, drinking alcohol, and talking amongst themselves. The recipient of the first meal I handed out was very grateful and thanked me with a smile. After that, it became easier to hand out the meals, since most of the homeless were so appreciative of what we were doing. There were a couple of people who tried to hide the meals they had received in order to get another, but they were quickly reprimanded by Director Lee, the leader of our group.

On this excursion, I was surprised to discover that Director Lee knew the name of every homeless person in the neighborhood—He even knew their individual ailments (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.)—and would call out their names if they weren’t in their cardboard shelters. The dedication and caring exhibited by Director Lee really struck a chord in me and convinced me to share this experience with others.

[Packing food bags at the Seoul Metropolitan Hope Community Center]

I conferred with him and we thought it would be a great idea to recruit more high school students into the program. Thus, I undertook an ambitious mission to raise awareness at not only my school, but also other international schools in Seoul. Everybody joins school clubs, but this would be a unique opportunity to participate in an activity that is not hampered by club politics and really gives us a chance to help those who need it the most. Although my first student group was small, at four members, I was so proud to lead them through the alleys of Seoul, calling a few of the names of the people I had memorized, just like Director Lee. The volunteers looked amazed as I pointed out the people who we didn’t need to approach, as they always refused our food bags, and asked a few about their health problems. On my most recent excursion in January, I managed to bring along nine of my fellow students. Leading them through the streets of Seoul gave me a feeling of exhilaration that is hard to describe in words. 

Janghoon Lee
Junior (Grade 11)
Korea International School

Janghoon Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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