The YKU did not have it easy when it came to funds. They were an active organization, but they only had a handful of offices scattered around America. Managing these offices alone was a significant financial burden. The YKU also had to make room in their budget to participate in international meetings hosted in other countries. Thus, they planned fundraisers appropriate for each season and area, such as the Christmas tree fundraiser.
Winters in the northeast coast of the U.S. were brutal—a continuous series of storms and blizzards. Nonetheless, dozens of YKU members gathered in New York each winter to sell Christmas trees. Starting from November, YKU members kept up their Christmas tree sales for a month. They shivered in the cold and hopped in place trying to raise their body heat, hardly having any time to go to the bathroom. The members who were located in New York were generally in charge of meals. They wanted to ensure that the members who were selling trees in the cold were at least provided a hot meal. They delivered warm soup to each place where the trees were being sold.
One such place was a deli in central Manhattan. The owner of the deli, Kang Byeong-ho, was the treasurer of YKU’s New York branch. He was the one who bought the Christmas trees from wholesalers.
The YKU members delivered each tree that was sold. This was hard work, since the trees were much bigger than a single person. Their work was not over when nighttime came, however. They had to stand shifts 24/7 to make sure the trees would not get stolen. The wind howled until they lost feeling in their ears and noses, but the YKU members could not leave the trees unattended. If anyone tried to steal a tree, they chased them down and took back the tree.
Their efforts paid off. The Christmas tree sales turned a profit of 20,000 dollars in two years. It made a significant contribution to the miscellaneous maintenance fees the YKU had to pay. A part of the profit was used to support the democracy movement happening in Korea.
The Christmas tree sales alone were nott nearly enough to fund the YKU’s activities, however. The YKU members of each region also started odd fundraising projects to contribute. They sold Korean food such as kimchi and bulgogi at Korean gatherings. They also punched button holes in clothing, assembled electronics, and sorted prints for money. The YKU members of L.A. once even featured as extras on a film as a group.
Though some YKU members were well-off doctors or businessmen, most were working blue collar jobs and living in poverty. Many had been unable to finish college. In spite of this, they did not neglect to pay the YKU membership fees. On top of that, some even skipped meals to scrap together money to donate to the YKU. Naturally, this made them poorer and poorer. Even the members who had started out driving fancy cars had to switch to older, used models. Many lived without a single nice piece of furniture in their house and wore the same few pieces of clothing all year long. All the members were becoming like Yoon Han-bong himself.
This lifestyle garnered the YKU members ridicule. They were called beggars, and some even suggested that they were a part of a cult. The YKU members did not heed this sort of criticism at all. They were too busy with their anti-nuclear meetings and educational events to pay attention to what others thought of them.
The YKU’s most incredible feat of international solidarity was the International Peace March. This march was not just about the reunification of North and South Korea – it was the pinnacle of the international solidarity movement headed by the YKU.