On Wednesday, June 25th, 200 homeless New Yorkers showed up at Central Park with empty stomachs and high hopes: Chinese millionaire Chen Guangbiao had promised a gourmet lunch and $300 in cash to anyone that attended his “Tour of Love and Gratitude.”
Instead, they left echoing sentiments like Tom Cargill’s:
“I feel so disappointed right now I’m going to throw up.”
Cargill was one of the hundreds of homeless that showed up to Chen’s event, which had been advertised in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But instead of following through on the promises made, there was a change in plan: Chen hosted the luncheon but instead of handing out the cash, he signed a contract agreeing to donate $90,000 to the New York City Rescue Mission.
After hearing of Chen’s plan to pass out such large amounts of cash, the rescue mission advised strongly against it. Spokeswoman Michelle Tolson explained why, saying, “We work with the homeless every day, many of them unfortunately have drink and drugs problems, and it just isn’t a good idea to give that sort of cash out to people.”
But unfortunately for Chen and the homeless individuals that showed up at Central Park, that message seems to have gotten lost in translation, leaving many of the struggling New Yorkers angry and resentful.
Vietnam War veteran Harry Brooks voiced his frustration to the Telegraph: “We have been duped to come along here under false pretenses, and now we are just part of a propaganda trick for the rich,” he said. “We don’t need their steak. We need the money so that we can pay for food and clear debts. Now we’re never going to see it. This is a disgrace.”
Others agreed, commenting that this was a perfect example of how the rich treat the poor.
It certainly didn’t help that on the day of the event, Chen made a speech that again promised to pay up. After that, he began passing out $300 to select attendees as a show of good faith; however, the New York Times reports that those homeless individuals that were given the money would have to give it back later—making the gesture purely symbolic, and incredibly upsetting to many.
After many of the luncheon guests became upset upon realizing that they wouldn’t be receiving the promised $300, many of them began shouting things like “We’re human beings!” and “Stop lying!” Under pressure, Chen promised to hand out money later in the day at the mission—but mission officials say that would be a violation of the previously signed contract.
The event can only be dubbed as a fiasco, but Chen surprisingly reported that he felt it had been a huge success, indicating that any upset was simply caused by East to West culture differences.
Whether that sentiment is true or not, Chen’s “Tour of Love and Gratitude” couldn’t have missed the mark more for most attendees. Instead of leaving guests hopeful and feeling loved, it likely left many feeling poorer than when they had arrived—bellies full of food but hearts deflated of false hope.
Of course, the mission’s stance is certainly understandable; many homeless individuals would likely squander the cash on things like drugs and alcohol rather than paying off debt or buying essentials. Of course, many others might also have used that cash to truly better their life situation. What it really comes down to is incredibly poor judgment and planning on Chen’s part—a mistake that many well-off individuals make when they found nonprofits or host charity events, getting so caught up in the “grand gesture” that they don’t think about the larger picture.