Maryland first lady Yumi Hogan visited with nine residents of a Long Reach apartment complex Tuesday, hand-delivering individual Korean meals of beef bulgogi, soy-glazed potato, brown rice and marinated zucchini.
Hogan, a native of South Korea, was assisted by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, who doled out containers of soybean sprout soup from an insulated bag that he lugged up and down the hallways of Longwood Apartments.
The elderly residents at the government-subsidized housing complex of 100 units were the first of 17 Howard County residents to begin receiving traditional Korean meals three times a week from a newly reinvigorated Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland home delivery program.
The Korean Meal Home Delivery program is the second ethnic-meal delivery program established in the eight Baltimore jurisdictions served by the nonprofit. The other consists of kosher meals that are delivered to a community in Northwest Baltimore.
Many of the recipients were overwhelmed that Hogan would take time to converse with them in Korean, and some were on the verge of tears as they were introduced to her.
The seniors greeted both Hogan and Kittleman with deep bows — and they bowed in return. One woman dashed into her bedroom after welcoming the pair into her home to grab her smartphone and asked a bystander to snap a photo.
"I am so excited! I've seen you in the newspaper," said Weilin Huang, who is Chinese but decided she'd prefer the Korean meals over regular ones. An American citizen, the 85-year-old was one of the few participants who spoke English.
Howard County is home to 13,000 of the state's 50,000 Korean residents — a number state officials project has grown significantly since the most recent data available was collected for the 2010 decennial census.
The new program is a relaunch of a similar arrangement the county had from 2013 to 2015 with a different caterer, one that eventually fell apart at contract renewal time, said Terri Hansen, manager of the division of social day programs in the county's Office on Aging and Independence.
The program, which works with faith-based communities, is aimed mainly at "older Korean individuals who can't cook or shop for groceries and aren't necessarily interested in the typical meal," Hansen said.
Stephanie Archer-Smith, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, said participants have been waiting with great anticipation for delivery of traditional Korean food.
"We're bringing something to them that brings them joy," Archer-Smith said. "Korean food is what they grew up with and what they know. People eat better when they are served foods they're familiar with."
Studies show the isolation caused by aging or disability issues "has a profound effect on a person's mood and health, and sometimes affects their eating habits," Archer-Smith said.
Hansen said a disconnect from society can be exacerbated when English is an individual's second language, but the county is fortunate to have two bilingual specialists who will assist in delivering the Korean meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she said.
"This is about being respectful of the diversity in our community and recognizing cultural and nutritional needs," she said.
The Korean meals cost $8.50 apiece to make — 50 cents more than traditional meals offered by Meals on Wheels — but are offered free to clients through a grant from BGE that will cover up to 20 eligible clients for one year, said Archer-Smith. Three vacancies currently remain in the program.
"We are hoping to find other public-private-nonprofit partnerships like the one with BGE," she said. "The challenge is always the funding; this is a good first step."
A special program at Bethany Korean United Methodist Church in Ellicott City preceded the meal delivery. The church on Bethany Lane, which operates in a chapel on the property of Bethany United Methodist Church, will serve as the staging area for meal distribution.
To kick off the service, a buffet of Korean cuisine that showcased the types of dishes Meals on Wheels clients will receive was prepared for guests to sample by Woo Chon Catering, a Glen Burnie-based restaurateur that will prepare the meals for the nonprofit to distribute.
The church's Praise Team performed two songs before the Rev. Dae Sung Park welcomed guests. That was followed by speeches from Hogan, Kittleman, Archer-Smith and David Vosvick II, vice president of human resources at BGE.
Yumi Hogan, the wife of Gov. Larry Hogan, called Howard County her "second home" in her remarks, noting her two adult daughters grew up in the county.
The event Tuesday also included a performance by two members of Washington Samulnori, a Korean traditional percussion troupe.