Sunee is originally from Saraburi province but has lived in Phuket for the past 16 years. Aland is from Malaysia and has lived in Phuket now for seven years. In pre-COVID days, the couple ran a small restaurant in the beach resort town.
“The situation is bad, 90% of the shops and businesses are still shut down,” Sunee explains.
“Many families staying in Patong have no work or only partial work. We see increased homelessness. We also give food to those sleeping on the streets now,” she adds.
“We see familiar faces coming to collect our daily food packets, and we get to know their stories. So many sad stories of financial stress, joblessness and having to stop work due to COVID. The least we can do is help with one hot meal a day,” Sunee says.
The couple began their efforts to provide food to those in need through their project ‘Hot Meals for All’ in March last year.
“From last year we witnessed many shops, hotels and restaurants shutdown with many jobless people just lining up in the streets asking for food. My husband Aland and I were so saddened, seeing people line up in the street for food in the hot sun. We never see such things happen in Phuket, and we had nothing in our hand to give. But I can cook, so my husband called his pastor in Malaysia to sponsor 60 packets of hot meals for two weeks,” Sunee recalls.
“Two weeks became five weeks and 60 packs grew to 200 packs a day, thanks to kind friends who saw our giving on Facebook. We are religious and we thank God for helping us find the money to serve food, but we give our meals freely to those in need and this is not tied to any religious intentions.”
Local residents and expats jump in to lend Sunee a hand. “We have a small group of rotating volunteers, most are expats living in Phuket. Our kitchen is able to pack close to 200 meals when we have at least two volunteers daily. It would be great to get a fixed set of volunteers that come in once a week as many hands make the packing go a lot quicker,” Sunee notes.
The need to continue the food effort remains.
“We started serving hot meals last March 2020 and have been waiting for the economic situation to improve,” Sunee adds.
“It has been 18 months now and our food lines are getting longer. We want to raise funding to cover serving meals until the end of the year, but it is likely the tourism will not recover in the near term so we must be prepared to continue raising money and serving meals next year. In a perfect world, we would not have to do this work but until the economy improves, this is how we can help the local community,” she says.
Not only does Sunee and her family tirelessly prepare daily hot meals Monday to Friday, they have also provided Survival Bags when finances allow.
Much of their efforts have been financed out of their personal savings, friends and family who have donated money to help keep their work going. However, to scale up the programme and serve more meals, more funding is needed.
Sunee is now raising a remaining B250,000 required to finance 15,000 hot meals until the end of the year. The project also aims to be eco-friendly, reducing single use plastic for more expensive paper packaging.
Funding for the entire project has been projected to cost B480,000. It costs B32 to make one pack of food. This includes food cost, paper packaging, utilities and gas. The target is to achieve 15,000 hot meals served by Dec 31.
The funding drive has been launched on the SimplyGiving web platform. So far many of the donations to the cause are from Singapore.
“The donation drive was championed by one of our Singaporean volunteers. She approached many overseas persons who are homeowners in Phuket or have spent many holidays here and therefore they were very sympathetic to the cause. The donors come from all over the world,” Sunee explains.
“The current round of funding started at the end of August (2021) and has already raised B250,000 separately through private donors but we need to open up the public funding sources to achieve our goals,” she adds.
Meanwhile, the food lines daily snake around the block as hopefuls wait patiently in line to secure a food packet. There is not always one for everyone.
Updates on the Hot Meals for All food relief programme, visit the website here.