Charity groups and volunteers are organizing a fund-raising event, in the form of a traditional Taiwanese-style weiya, or year-end banquet, to help the homeless get through the cold winter months.
Cooking several dishes in the kitchen of Ren-An Homeless Association this week was a 62-year-old man surnamed Wu (吳).
Working for the association as a volunteer to help the homeless for the past 10 years, Wu is a regular at the group’s kitchen station in Wanhua District (萬華) in Taipei.
He often arrives at the charity in the morning to help with food preparation and cooking so that hot meals can be prepared for the needy.
Wu was once a homeless person himself, and said: “In my younger days, I was a contractor in the construction industry. My life was going well, with a wife and kids. However, after making some bad investments, I ended up in serious debt trouble and became destitute, a homeless person out on the streets.”
“It was only when I encountered the Ren-An Homeless Association that I was able to have warm food to eat and then could get a job,” he added.
Appreciating the timely offer of help from the group during a cold winter and wanting to give something back, Wu often goes to the Wanhua kitchen station, working with other volunteers to prepare hot meals.
Every day, Wu and other volunteers at the charity cook enough food for 200 homeless people.
Now in time for the winter months, they are preparing a traditional Taiwanese-style six-course meal.
Usually featured in year-end banquets, the dishes are bestowed with a variety of names featuring allusion, rhyme and homophones meant to confer good fortune, happiness, prosperity and other positive attributes.
For example, one of the dishes is called “living a long life,” as it incorporates leaf mustard, which is also called the “long year vegetable.” Another dish is called “may you have surplus every year,” and features deep-fried tilapia fish. A third dish is a soup made with diced Chinese radishes and pork meatballs called “start out with good omen.”
One of the homeless people coming regularly for a hot meal is a 48-year-old woman surnamed Chen (陳), who takes the bus from Sanchong (三重) in New Taipei City (新北市) to Wanhua.
The woman said she used to wander around the streets with her four children, but three of them have been adopted by US families and are now living there.
These days, Chen still has one child with learning difficulties with her and receives a monthly low-income subsidy from the government.
She said that only when coming to the homeless association can she have hot meals and get help in finding odd jobs to bring in income.
Another homeless person who enjoys meals at the charity is a 67-year-old man surnamed Chung (鐘).
“These dishes are just like those my parents used to cook for us. Eating this food gives me an intimate feeling of being with family members,” he said.
Wu, the regular volunteer cook on this day is the main chef in the kitchen and he also helps out filling the bowls of the guests with food. He also dispenses the soup.
Looking at the satisfied looks on their faces, Wu said: “It’s just a small contribution of love on my part. When I see the homeless happily eating a hot meal, I am also very happy.”
To enable it to help more needy people, the Ren-An Homeless Association is holding a fund-raising charity dinner on the plaza in front of the National Theater Concert Hall on Feb. 5, just before the Lunar New Year holidays.