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Charity begins at dawn - with hot porridge
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Zhejiang businessman Lin Ruxin gave an extra gift during the Spring Festival - free breakfast for the jobless and the homeless.

Touched by the plight of workers laid off in the economic downturn, Lin thought of offering hot porridge to keep them warm during the festive season.

The festival came to an end but Lin continued with his charity as the queues became longer - and thousands of people in Yiwu now consider him a hero.

 Charity begins at dawn - with hot porridge
The 50-year-old Lin, who runs a small printing business in the city, and volunteers would set up stands every morning between 6:30 am and 7:20 am outside the labor market, providing 1,000 bowls of porridge and 2,000 steamed buns.

Yiwu is famous globally for its thousands of labor-intensive and export-oriented factories - employing nearly 3 million migrant workers - that used to churn out inexpensive goods and accessories.

But the local industry has been hit hard by the global financial crisis since last fall, leaving thousands of workers jobless.

"The factories used to find it hard to hire enough hands," Lin told China Daily yesterday. "But now so many people can't find jobs."

Moved by their plight, he hired two chefs to make porridge and steamed buns, and his relatives and employees joined in.

"Migrant workers, beggars and homeless people are all welcome," Lin said. "They queue long before the breakfast is served. And some people even walk 3 km for the free meal."

Each is entitled to a bowl of porridge and two buns but some queue several times to get more.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "They can take as much as they can. If they have nothing to eat, they may turn to bad deeds."

Inspired by Lin, many local businessmen have donated money. The daily cost of the breakfast is 1,200 yuan (US$170), Lin said.

But as the cold dissipates, Lin is worried about the impending warm weather. None of the 43 volunteers have the health certificate needed for working in the catering sector. And the open-air kitchen does not meet official hygiene standards.

"So far everything has gone well. But what if someone falls ill after eating our free meals?" he said. "We rushed in without a long-term plan."

This week, Lin has halted the project to tackle hygiene issues.

"The local government has been very supportive," he said. "We are trying to figure out the best way to restart as soon as possible."

And in keeping with the hot weather, Lin said he would also offer herbal tea.

The suspension of the 65-day charity drive has led to heated debate on the Internet on how to facilitate people like Lin.

The China Youth Daily suggests in a commentary that the government promulgate new laws or regulations to provide policy and legal backing to such charity activities.

Sociologist Liu Qinglong said "charity comes in many kinds of forms and Lin's breakfast stand sets a good example".

"But people should be more aware of the risks of such endeavors and the authorities should give them more guidance and help to mobilize more people for charity," Liu, a professor at Tsinghua University, told China Daily.

(China Daily April 9, 2009)

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