On Nov. 22, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Council of Los Angeles (SVDPLA), granted a merit award to the St. Basil Korean Conference of Charity, a Korean group that has been feeding Skid Row’s homeless every Saturday morning for the past two decades.

“Thank you for being a part of our mission,” said Claire Padama, president of the SVDP-LA, “and for sharing God’s gift with our less fortunate brothers and sisters.”

“The St. Basil Korean Conference has made an important contribution to people’s lives,” said David Fields, executive director of SVDPLA, who presented the award to the group.

The Los Angeles chapter of SVDP oversees 140 Catholic “conferences,” or lay volunteer groups, in L.A., Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Internationally, SVDP is one of the largest charitable organizations in the world.

“Nothing like this has happened to us, in 20 years,” said Joseph Ahn, president of the Korean group, which is also associated with St. Basil Catholic Church in Koreatown. Ahn accepted the award on behalf of Shiwa Kahng, who founded the Korean conference in 1994. Kahng, 81, was ill and unable to attend the event.

For 20 years, the Korean group has worked without fanfare to feed the homeless on Skid Row. First, they served sandwiches on the streets. Then, four years ago, the L.A. County health department placed restrictions on food distribution. To continue their mission, the Korean group sought and received permission from the Society’s Cardinal Manning Center to serve a hot breakfast inside the shelter.

Ever since, the volunteers have served breakfast every Saturday morning, 52 weeks a year, from 5:45 to 6:30 a.m., serving 250-300 homeless every week. On a normal Saturday, roughly 20 volunteers serve a breakfast of homemade soup, turkey hot-dogs and pastries. Another group of volunteers, representing the Bliss Music Ensemble, a Korean American youth orchestra, plays music to entertain the diners.

Kareem Shabazz, 52, a resident at the homeless shelter, said that the Koreans’ breakfast service “shows us that we are worthwhile in ourselves, and that society has not forgotten about us.”

St. Basil Korean Conference of Charity group has also begun a major fundraising drive for their home-visit program, which provides poor people with emergency, short-term, direct grants. The Conference hopes to raise $100,000 from the Korean business community. ν