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Russian First Lady Makes Debut at Soup Kitchen With AM-Summit Rdp Bjt

June 16, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two VIP chefs, Naina Yeltsin and Barbara Bush, stirred the soup and made cheese-and-bologna sandwiches for Washington’s homeless at a soup kitchen Tuesday.

The two first ladies donned red aprons and slapped together 35 of the 2,500 sandwiches produced daily at Martha’s Table, a charity that sends vans out nightly to feed hundreds of street people in local parks.

Mrs. Yeltsin marvelled at the largely volunteer effort and said she’d like to launch similar programs in Moscow.

But ″we don’t have the availability of products which you have,″ said the 60-year-old wife of Boris Yeltsin. ″Eventually we will.″

She said she understood the problems of America, ″but thank God you have fewer problems than we do.″

It was Washington’s first chance to get a feel for the new Russian first lady, whose modest, subdued style contrasts starkly with the firm outspokenness of her predecessor, Soviet first lady Raisa Gorbachev.

Unlike Mrs. Gorbachev, Yeltsin’s wife generally stays in the shadow of her powerful husband in the tradition of previous Kremlin wives.

Yeltsin made a point of that fact in an ABC-TV ″20-20″ interview earlier this year. ″I’m the boss″ in the Yeltsin family, he said. His wife concurred, telling a Dutch magazine her husband ″never allows me to mix in his affairs.″

Although rumored to be painfully shy and retiring, Mrs. Yeltsin handled herself with aplomb before a battery of television cameras and microphones Tuesday.

Was she surprised that people go hungry and live in the streets of Washington?

″No, I’m not really surprised. It can happen in any system, even when the state is rich,″ said the one time construction engineer.

″Under any system there will be poor because people work differently and they have different attitudes toward work,″ said Mrs. Yeltsin.

Earlier, Mrs. Bush greeted her guest with a hug and kisses on both cheeks at the colorful military ceremony on the White House lawn that opened the summit. The wives repaired upstairs afterwards for tea.

But then Mrs. Bush took her guest uptown to a poor neighborhood and one of Mrs. Bush’s favorite charities, Martha’s Table.

The soup kitchen enlists 70 volunteers each day to make sandwiches and 65 gallons of vegetable soup. Vans ferry the food each evening to homeless adults who line up in Washington’s parks.

It also runs a children’s center that provides tutoring, play and free meals.

The first ladies donned red aprons and disposable plastic gloves and took their place in the sandwich line between volunteers Kate Berenson, in an abortion rights T-shirt, and Betty Stewart.

″We can do that,″ said Mrs. Bush, plopping bologna slices onto wheat bread while Mrs. Yeltsin followed with slices of processed American cheese. ″You’re faster than I,″ she quipped.

Upstairs, in the children’s center, Mrs. Yeltsin hugged Lorenzo Bell, 9, who gave her a bouquet of paper flowers in red, white and blue - the colors of the Russian and American flags.

The auburn-haired Mrs. Yeltsin wore small, antique emerald-and-diamond earrings and a beige-and-taupe dress imprinted with colorful gemstones. Mrs. Bush was in a bright lavender suit with her trademark three strands of fake pearls.

The first ladies had met twice before, in Moscow last year and last Feb. 1 during Yeltsin’s fleeting visit to Camp David, Md.

Mrs. Bush will hold a luncheon at Mount Vernon, Va., George Washington’s home, for Mrs. Yeltsin on Wednesday.