It was a strange afternoon at the Loeb Boathouse in New York City’s Central Park Wednesday as Chinese recycling tycoon and philanthropist Chen Guangbiao bought lunch for between 200 and 250 homeless New Yorkers.
Chen, who is worth an estimated $750 million, selected a menu of sesame-seed-encrusted tuna, beef filet and berries with crème fraiche, according to the AP. Attendees included residents of a Manhattan shelter, who Chen serenaded by singing “We are the World,” the popular 1985 anti-poverty anthem. He also held baskets of cash that would later be distributed to the guests.
Chen’s aim: To refute the idea that rich Chinese spend their money on luxuries.
The event wasn’t without controversy. A number of protesters assembled on the streets outside of the restaurant. They carried signs and yelled disparaging chants about the Chinese Communist Party, calling it “terrible” and saying the party was made up of terrorists. The protesters claimed that the government in China had stolen their homes.
There was a healthy media presence at the event too, with some press members making their way into the restaurant and others having to settle for standing outside the gates.
There were conflicting reports about just how many people attended the event. The number was rumored to be 1,000 — a number anyone who has seen the space available at the Loeb Boathouse would know to be impossible. According to the New York Post, Chen is actually planning four separate lunches for around 250 people. Some homeless people thought it was open to all, and the Post reported booing from those who were turned away.
In another somewhat bizarre moment, an array of volunteers wearing blue or green military style uniforms were brought in to serve the lunch.
Chen has continued to be in the news in the past few days, handing out $100 bills to strangers, though some refused his generosity. In the past he has made the headlines by saying he would purchase the New York Times Company. The paper’s owners have yet to show any interest in his offer.