Poor people receive free lunch boxes from volunteers at Thomas House in South Korean capital Seoul. (Photo: Catholic Times of Korea)

By UCA News reporter

Feb 16 2023

The facilities catering to hundreds of poor people are stressed out due to the high price of essentials, utilities.

Church-run soup kitchens in South Korea that offer free food to hundreds of hungry and homeless people are struggling to operate due to price hikes of daily essentials and the high cost of utilities such as gas, says a report.

Amid the crisis, the free soup kitchens that receive subsidies from the government are on the better side, and church-run facilities that solely depend on donations from Catholics are facing difficulties, Catholic Times reported on Feb. 15.  

The ‘January 2023 Consumer Price Trend’ released by the National Statistical Office on Feb. 2 showed the consumer price index in January rose 5.2% from the same month last year. The rise in prices in January was largely due to an increase in public utility charges. 

Electricity bills in January this year rose 29.5 percent from the same period last year. In addition, city gas and district heating costs jumped 36.2% and 34%, respectively. The rate of increase in public utility rates was the highest since 2010, according to year-on-year data from the National Statistical Office.

Cheonan St. Mary’s House, a free meal service for hundreds of people run by the Daejeon Diocese, continues to provide free meals with subsidies and operating expenses supported by the district office and parish.

However, due to the sharp increase in food material purchase and gas costs, the facility has been facing a hard time.

“We are trying to save more money than before,” an official said, Catholic Times reported.

Thomas House in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul, is under severe financial pressure as it provides free meals to the homeless and the elderly living alone in the Yeongdeungpo area with only individual and group donations, from Monday to Friday.

Each day about 300 people get free lunches from the facility, but it does not receive any support from the government.

Teresa Park Gyeong-ok (Teresa), the general manager of the house, said they have been under pressure due to a drop in donations and a price hike.

“The existing donations have decreased, and prices have continued to rise, so this year is especially difficult,” she said.

“There was no sponsorship for the ingredients, so we had to buy the ingredients with Thomas’ own budget and serve the rice cake soup,” she added.

“Everyone is struggling economically these days, so it would be difficult for the sponsors as well, but I hope many people will be interested in sponsoring the soup kitchen,” she said.

St. Vincent’s House in the Diocese of Cheongju, which operates only with donations from Catholics, planned to resume to face-to-face free meal services as it did before the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it has run into troubles due to the high prices of daily essentials.

“Pili shed garlic has risen by 30%, and gas costs have nearly doubled, so I think we need to adjust the number of meals,” said Lucia Park Kyung-sook, manager of St. Vincent’s House.

There are no exact figures available on the number of church-run free soup kitchens in South Korea.

A church source confirmed each of the three Catholic archdioceses and 14 dioceses and various religious organizations run such free meal services across the country. – UCA News