On Tuesday afternoon, a long line formed outside the office of Seoul’s District of Yeongdeungpo with people who came to visit a “Free Store,” a store the district runs to help its residents who are struggling due to COVID-19.
Visitors can take up to four items out of 80 necessities including rice, instant noodles, face masks and diapers free of charge once a month. Only residents of the district are eligible. Most products offered in the store have been provided by businesses operating in the district, and some have been donated by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who visited the store on Saturday.
Unlike other weekdays when most visitors are in their 60s and over, there were a decent number of people in their 20s or 30s on Tuesday. “I cannot afford food sometimes let alone childcare,” said a woman in her 30s who brought a three-year-old baby with her. “I have been out of a job for a long time as the pandemic becomes prolonged.”
Popular items have also changed compared to the previous year. Many people take food such as rice and instant noodles. “Most people go for food first although there are more than 80 items they can choose from,” said a source from the district office. “Most of them have lost jobs or support due to COVID-19.”
There are three Free Stores in the district – in the district office, Dangsan and Singil – and a total of 315 people have visited them as of January 18, according to the Yeongdeungpo District. A majority of the visitors were elderly people in their 60s, while more than 30 percent were young people in their 20s and 30s who have lost their jobs. “Vulnerable groups, which used to consist mostly of the elderly, now include young people,” said a source from the district office. “Those who seek support in housing have increased by 15 percent.”
Seng-Hyun Kang firstname.lastname@example.org