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Monday, November 1, 2010

Giving Back to Korea

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- When volunteers open the front doors to enter the Second Hand Rose Thrift Shop on Seoul's main U.S. military base three days a week, they are usually greeted by customers waiting, often regulars who help move larger items outside on display.
They're there to browse the rooms of quality used clothing, toys and household goods, knowing there's always merchandise being added from the constant stream of donations left in the bins out back.
What fewer of them know is that their payments are also treated as donations, and passed on to help many of the often-unseen needy throughout Korea.
Second Hand Rose has been active on the U.S. Army's Yongsan Base since 1977. The store itself is only for shoppers with access to the base, but its profits are split evenly between U.S. Forces Korea causes, including scholarships and grants to Korean groups and individuals in need of help.
That amounts to about US$160,000 a year given in grants and scholarships, in addition to a huge amount of surplus goods that are donated directly to those who need them. The store, owned and run by the American Women's Club Thrift Store Association (AWCTSA), is affiliated with the American Women's Club.
Ella Catineau, who has been president and manager of the shop since September last year, said her shop is staffed by volunteers whose numbers fluctuate, particularly over summer when many military members and their spouses relocate. There are also Korean volunteers, with about 40 in late October.
Catineau said an executive board oversees the operations with a welfare committee that handles requests for funds from Korean charities and USFK entities. Chris Rippon, the welfare committee co-chairperson, said that she often visits many of the groups that receive the funds.
"I usually do 'look-sees', as we call them, if it's a new charity that we've never funded before or if it's a new project that we're funding," she said.
She said her husband, an executive with GM Daewoo who often drives her to "look-sees" on the weekend, encourages her, explaining how emotional he becomes whenever he sees those in need.
"He thinks that he's a burly-type guy and that emotions wouldn't get into something like this but seeing the little kids and the babies lying on the floor -- it's really emotional. It's very heart-warming, though, to know that we can help them," she said.
Charities that have received funds from AWCTSA include the Love All Nations homeless church, Myongdo Services for Persons with Learning Disabilities, Emmaus Welfare Center, and the House of Sharing, which provides residential care for Korea's elderly "comfort women" -- survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II.
Hyon O'Brien, an elder of the Love All Nations Church, said the group has received AWCTSA grants twice, totaling $8,000. She also coordinates a weekly pickup of clothing and towels from the thrift shop.
"Many men at the shelter are grateful for the help," she said. "They also feel they are not totally forgotten by society because of AWCTSA."
Emmaus director Noel O'Neill said that although the organization receives funding from the Korean government, "this falls well short of what is needed to provide quality services."
Since 1999, Emmaus has received a total of $4,000 in grants from AWCTSA. That, among other things, has helped to fund a shuttle bus to the center, meet heating costs for a sheltered workshop, and finance a project to assist young mothers who are intellectually handicapped.
"The assistance from AWCTSA has helped us in the maintenance of our centers but more so in being able to take the initiative in beginning new programs," he said.
The beneficiaries of the AWCTSA funds regularly send photos, cards and letters to the thrift shop to thank the many volunteers they don't get to meet in person. Volunteers say they feel rewarded when they are thanked.
"When I first came here, I volunteered because I wanted to do something," Catineau said. "I didn't really realize what we were doing here. Now I understand what we are doing and our mission is to help those really in need. That satisfies me because I'm helping someone."

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, this was the feature Yonhap was least keen on but the one that got the most media feedback with tbs eFM contacting me wanting to interview Ella on air and the Korea Herald running it as part of their Expat Living section and asking me to write more for them - unfortunately they don't pay!