Young Korean Americans volunteer at LA thrift store to help the poor

November 9, 2015
Korean Catholic young adults from Fortes in Fide volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in downtown L.A. on Saturday morning. The sales from SVdP’s two area thrift stores pay for programs that help homeless and low-income people. (Courtesy of St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles / Kay Hwangbo)

Korean Catholic young adults from Fortes in Fide volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in downtown L.A. on Saturday morning. The sales from SVdP’s two area thrift stores pay for programs that help homeless and low-income people. (Courtesy of St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles / Kay Hwangbo)

In a sign that the Korean immigrant community is becoming more involved with the wider community, a Korean American young professionals group volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store Saturday.

Profits from the downtown Los Angeles thrift store are used benefit those in poverty.

Korean young-adult groups at several Southern California Catholic churches founded Fortes Fide in 2012 to organize spiritual retreats for Korean American Catholics aged 21 to 45. Fortes in Fide means “Strong in Faith” in Latin.

Volunteers Albert Lee, left, and Eugene Moon, right, of Fortes in Fide unload and shelve used VHS and DVD movies at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in downtown L.A. (Courtesy of St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles / Kay Hwangbo)

Volunteers Albert Lee, left, and Eugene Moon, right, of Fortes in Fide unload and shelve used VHS and DVD movies at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in downtown L.A.

Fortes volunteer co-coordinator David W. Kim, 36, said that he understands that immigrants have had to take care of themselves, and thus tend to focus on themselves.

“But when a person looks inward, life tends to be a very lonely place,” Kim said. “It’s a big mental shift to get people to look out for one another.”

On this Saturday, 11 professionals and graduate students demonstrated their concern for their fellow human beings. The young men and women—aged 21 to 30–carried heavy boxes full of merchandise, arranged clothing displays, and conducted onsite customer surveys.

Volunteers came from St. Basil Catholic Church and St. Gregory Nazianzen Korean Church in Koreatown, St. Raphael Catholic Church in Norwalk, and St. Thomas Korean Catholic Center in Anaheim. Fortes in Fide also includes Sung Sam Korean Catholic Center in Glassell Park, St. Joseph Korean Catholic Center in Canoga Park, Catholic Bible Life Movement in Buena Park and Korean Martyrs Catholic Center in Garden Grove.

“The sense of community is nourishing us in ways that we didn’t expect,” Fortes volunteer co-coordinator Veronica Kim, 25, said.

Heejin Park, 25, noted that St. Vincent’s is a huge thrift store and that it takes a lot of work to run it.

“Even though what we’re doing is small, it helps them in some way, and that makes me feel good,” said Park, a biochemistry graduate student from Garden Grove.

She spent the morning selecting clothes for, and dressing, manikins in the women’s clothing section.

Volunteer Heejin Park, from a Korean Catholic young adults group, dresses a manikin at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in downtown L.A. ((Courtesy of St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles / Kay Hwangbo)

Volunteer Heejin Park, from a Korean Catholic young adults group, dresses a manikin at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in downtown L.A.

Fortes is unique in that it involves many churches, and has recruited young Korean American adults to do volunteer work. Community service isn’t yet popular among young Korean adults, organizers say.

But Albert Lee, 23, a U.S. Army officer, and Eugene Moon, 25, a library assistant, said that they got a lot out of their volunteer experience on Saturday. They carried heavy boxes full of VHS’s and DVD’s from St. Vincent’s warehouse area to the store section. There, they shelved the movies. Lee was surprised that people still watch VHS.

“Some people aren’t able to afford DVD players,” he reflected. “Doing this reminds me that there are people who are not as fortunate as me.”

St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles runs numerous programs for low-income individuals — including a Skid Row transitional housing facility, a summer camp for underprivileged children and holiday food giveaways. The sales from the L.A. store and another thrift store in Long Beach fund these programs.

“We’re excited to have the volunteers helping us,” said stores director Alfred Rodriguez. “Every item that they put on the sales floor helps our community.”

Later, sometime this winter, members will volunteer at the farm of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, harvesting fruits and vegetables to feed the hungry. The food bank was founded by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Council of Orange County.

___

This story and the photographs were provided by Kay Hwangbo, a public relations specialist to Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Los Angeles Council. 

For more information about St. Vincent de Paul’s volunteering opportunities and social service programs, or to make a donation, please call Gina Doyle at (323) 226-9643. More information can also be found on St. Vincent’s website, www.svdpla.org.

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