Year-end banquet held for Taipei's homeless community
Taipei, Jan. 22 (CNA) On a normal Friday evening outside Taipei Main Station, where the city's pulse reverberates through commuters leaving or rushing back home, an unusual banquet unfolded for people living in the area with no home to return to before the Lunar New Year.
Carrying two Styrofoam boxes filled to the brim with home-cooked meals, volunteer Han-yun (瀚云) arrived with her two daughters at a counter near the west gate of the station, ready to give out the nutritious and festive delicacies her family had been hard at work preparing since early morning.
"We know that before the end of each lunar year, there is a banquet to provide the homeless with a hearty meal. I find this event quite meaningful, so we wanted to continue donating food this year," the 40-year-old mom told CNA last Friday.
It is a tradition in many Asian countries, including Taiwan, for family members to gather for a feast just before the Lunar New Year.
Organized by the nonprofit group Do You A Flavor, this annual year-end banquet has taken place on the streets of Taipei for five years and has expanded to be a three-day event, not just featuring food, but also free haircuts, donations of clothes, and the chance to play fun games with volunteers.
The tempting aroma of the food and the army of volunteers quickly drew the attention of homeless people in the area. Among them was Tung An-ling (董安齡), who has been homeless since returning to Taiwan from the United States almost four years ago.
"I like to eat a variety of food; I can eat lots of different food," said the 53-year-old, adding that she has been out of touch with her family for more than 10 years and can feel lonely during the holidays.
Having worked as a janitor, Tung offered to help the volunteers repackage the food. "I really appreciate the kindness of those people ... you know the kindhearted, who help us, the homeless people right here," she said, after finishing a portion of salad and drunken chicken -- one of the 400 dishes donated on the first day of the event.
Having lived on the streets for more than 20 years, Chang Yun-hsiang (張雲翔) told CNA after finishing a game of Jenga with two volunteers that he loved having the chance to interact with people at the event.
He said that the public has mixed impressions of the homeless community, with some showing concern, and others looking down on him.
"I used to sleep by the sidewalk, and someone once asked me, 'Why don't you just find a job since you are physically capable?'" said the 37-year-old, who has heart problems.
Meanwhile, the event was just as rewarding for those who gave as well as those who received.
Having helped prepare the food, 11-year-old Si-jie (熙婕) and 9-year-old Shu-you (書偊) expressed their enjoyment at participating in the year-end banquet, saying they hoped their "cooking would help" and that the contents would "be filling for them [the homeless people]."
Robert Lin (林鈺祥), an occupational therapist and a first-time volunteer, was responsible for distributing food around the station, which he said he found rewarding.
"When we interact with them, they get to know a new person or make a new friend, and they know there are people in society who care about them," the 31-year-old said.
On the first day of the event, around 250 people in need around Taipei Main Station received hot and nutritious meals from volunteers like Lin. However, this number represents only a quarter of all registered homeless individuals in Taipei and New Taipei.
According to data provided by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, there were a total of 3,002 registered homeless individuals in Taiwan in 2022, with the figure remaining steady since 2019. One-third of the homeless people reside in Taipei and New Taipei.
Ader Wu (巫彥德), co-founder of Do You a Flavor, said the number of homeless individuals will increase if society continues to ignore their plight.
"When a person encounters difficulties but doesn't receive assistance and faces exclusion, the situation only ends up worse," he said.
The event aims to provide homeless people with a sense of hope and to help them not feel left out during Lunar New Year celebrations, the 34-year-old said.
"It also gives society a tangible way to offer help, as people sometimes feel a sense of anguish when they see homeless people on the streets during the cold weather but feel they cannot do anything to help them," he added.
(By Sunny Lai)
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