Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Chinese tycoon’s charitable lunch for US homeless flops

NO PAID LUNCHES:After being treated to a posh meal by Chen Guangbiao, the diners were enraged to see a promised cash handout not on the menu

AFP, NEW YORK

A three-course lunch hosted by an eccentric Chinese millionaire for 250 homeless New Yorkers at a posh restaurant degenerated into fury on Wednesday when guests were denied the US$300 cash handouts they were promised.

When recycling tycoon Chen Guangbiao (陳光標) last week took out ads in US newspapers promising the city’s homeless a first-rate meal at the Boathouse in New York’s Central Park and US$300 each, it seemed such like such good idea. Guests were bused in and treated to a sit-down meal of seared tuna, filet mignon and seasonal berries, as they were waited on by staff in suits and bow ties.

Yet when the cash handout failed to materialize, tempers flared and as Chen spoke to a group of Chinese journalists as dessert was being served, one guest started shouting at him.

“Don’t lie to the people,” Ernest St Pierre said. “We came here for US$300, but now he’s changed his tune. This individual, who’s filthy rich, put it in the paper,” former US Navy medic St Pierre said.

Retired Vietnam War veteran Harry Brooks told reporters he would be “highly upset” if he did not get the cash, despite enjoying the food “very much.”

Yet not all the guests were unhappy. Many said they enjoyed the food and called the experience “beautiful,” saying they were touched that someone had flown all the way from China wanting to help. However, as they were herded outside to get bused back, the complaints multiplied.

Quin Shabazz, 34, said he felt the homeless who attended had been exploited and branded the lunch — covered by a mob of TV cameras and reporters — “a big publicity stunt.”

Al Johnson, 42, said he had been banking on the money to get his life together and go home to his family in Texas.

“This was going to change my life,” he said. “Fraud. This is fraud with a capital ‘F,’” he added. “I feel used for a photo op.”

New York City Rescue Mission executive director Craig Mayes was left to deny there had been any injustice, saying: “I’m really sorry. It [the cash handout] was misrepresented in the paper.”

Michelle Tolson, director of public relations at the Mission, said Tuesday that no cash would be handed out and that it had taken 1.5 months of negotiations to convince Chen to instead donate US$90,000 to the group.

Chen sparked similar controversy when he visited Taiwan in early 2011 and reportedly donated more than NT$500 million (US$17.3 million at then-exchange rates) to poor people there.

Additional reporting by staff writer

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