By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Homelessness is prevalent on the streets of Seattle and Bellevue. When Chang Rae Lee immigrated to Washington state years ago, he knew that he wanted to help with this situation.
Lee and his wife, Myung, are the owners of Pepper Jack, a fast food restaurant in downtown Bellevue. The Korean American couple serves free lunches to the homeless at their restaurant on Saturdays, from noon to 1 p.m. The restaurant is open to the public on weekdays.
The restaurant serves a variety of Asian-inspired lunch entrees such as Kung Pao chicken and orange chicken as well as teriyaki combinations.
The Lees moved to Washington about 25 years ago from South Korea. They have been married for 40 years, and they have two kids. The couple currently lives in Bellevue.
Through a translator, Lee explained that they opened the restaurant 11 years ago, and they have been handing out coupons for free lunches for about nine years. The Lees provide templates for the coupons to various food banks, churches, the YMCA, and the YWCA to print out to give to the needy. It was Myung’s idea to start this charitable program.
He said he noticed that there was a lot of homelessness on the streets when he first moved here. He felt sad and empathetic. Lee felt like it was his duty to provide food to the needy.
Ever since, during the winter, the Lees have been giving out meal coupons. The coupons travel from Uwajimaya in Bellevue to Chinatown in Seattle, providing coffee and hot soup. The Lees do this every year during the Christmas season as a gift to those who need it the most.
The number of people who take advantage of the lunches at Pepper Jack Restaurant varies.
“Sometimes, there are about 30 to 60 people that show up,” Lee said. The plate lunches include generous portions of rice, chicken teriyaki, salad, and soup. “I feel proud when I see people grateful for the lunches we serve them,” Lee said.
Lee’s good friend, Dr. Daniel Park, said that it is Lee’s good character that makes him the philanthropic person he is today.
“He has the heart and loving mind of Jesus Christ,” Park said. “Lee and his wife feel great about being able to give back to the community in times of need.”
“Business has slowed down these past few months because the building the restaurant is located in is almost empty, but the Lees continue to serve lunches to the needy every weekend,” Park added.
Lee also said that he has seen people cry because they are so grateful for free meals in the cold weather.
Lee and his wife are very involved in their church community. They wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to pray and attend early morning services. Lee is also a deacon at his church, Loving Church. Sometimes, he recruits volunteers from his church to give out meals.
Both Lee and Park belong to the Vietnam Veterans of America. Their involvement in the organization includes efforts to reduce homelessness by applying for federal government funding.
Lee was very humbled by the honor of being one of the top contributors to the community. “I do not feel worthy of the honor because I am just trying to help in any way that I can,” Lee said.
Lee enjoys living in the United States and feels proud that he is able to give back to the community in any way that he can. ♦
For more information about Pepper Jack Restaurant, call 425-450-1909.
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.