People start queuing in front of the The Corner Restaurant near Boat Avenue in the heart of Cherng Talay at about 3:30pm each day, willing to wait an hour and a half for the food and drinks to be handed out.
Jens Klein, who opened the restaurant together with his partner Khun Arttie some seven years ago, explained that they started with one small table and just 40 meals that they had prepared to hand out. “The food was gone within a minute,” he recalled.
That was on April 14, one day after the Phuket Lockdown came into effect, banning all non-essential travel between any of 17 subdistricts in Phuket.
“They said I was not allowed past the checkpoint in Bangjo, so I couldn’t go home and decided to sleep in the restaurant for the time being. As the restaurant is located on the main road leading towards Laguna, besides the SuperCheap store, random people started coming to see us and asked for rice and other staples to get by every day.”
“One night I just couldn’t sleep. I had to do something about this. Since we have all the facilities and equipment here, I decided to use all our potential and connections to help and created a FB post with the headline HWL - Helping With Love,” Jens said.
Now he still sleeps on an inflatable mattress at the restaurant and his efforts have bloomed through the help of his staff and friends, and other goodhearted people in the community, and through contributions he is able to provide a minimum of 250 meals a day.
However, the number of meals provided changes every day. “The other day we had to hand out 438 meals and, thus, needed to cook some 100 additional a la minute meals that evening,” Jens explained.
People start queuing in front of the restaurant at about 3:30pm each day, willing to wait an hour and a half, until 5pm for the food and drinks to be handed out.
But the queue continues to grow with each passing day. “More and more people keep on coming,” Jens said.
“At the beginning I always saw the same people, but now we get to see new faces almost every single day, especially more and more kids and Burmese workers. For these people one person out of work means the whole family has no support.
“Even for those who have been recently rehired, they will have to wait at least a month before they can get paid, and that is only if they are not laid off after two-three weeks during their probation period,” he said.
Jens lambasted critics and people saying there are no people suffering in the area. “Some rather ‘strange’ people commented on social media that they live here in the Cherng Talay-Laguna area and that there are no unemployed and poor people here and that restaurants, who provide free food, do so for publicity only.
“That is rubbish. If these people are fine, why would they wait almost two hours in the heat just to get some food. Those needy people we serve food to are definitely not our future clientele and won’t rush back after the crisis for high tea and a Schnitzel.”
“Instead of only complaining and criticise, those bored keyboard-warriors should rather come to help us and invest their own time, energy and money every single day, instead of blaming those who really make a difference,” he challenged.
He also called out privileged people living in the area used to living upscale lifestyles to help out. “A week of food provided to these people costs less than one ot two magnum bottles of premium champagne at a beach club, which you saw people boasting about in their posts on Facebook during ‘normal times’. For the same money you can provide at least two meals to 1,500 people,” he said.
Jens welcomed support, especially from large stores. “Every day large stores throw away a lot of food. That food could be put to good use. Even hotels and serviced apartments [that are still providing food for guests] can help,” he explained.
The “contributions”, as Jens calls the daily giveaways, cost about B7,000-9,000 a day. “Water alone costs about B2,000 a day, and that’s the cheapest I can get,” he said.
Other donations are welcome. “Once a week we do relief packages, which include a bag of rice, cooking oil, canned fish, soap and toothpaste and other necessities,” Jens explained.
Even shirts and shoes and other forms of clothing are welcome. “This one lady in the queue every day was wearing the same trousers and t-shirt for two weeks,” Jens noted.
“We always have mothers with young children coming up to us and we do what we can to help them by providing diapers, baby milk and baby food,” he said, adding that handing out a donated children’s toy to a young child remains a special memory.
Jens and Khun Arttie gave a special thank you to all the people who have supported the effort so far. “The people who are helping us now here at the restaurant are either retired or are also out of work. There are also many good hearted people who keep helping who don’t want to be named, they just want to do the right thing. Thankfully there are many more generous people in the community than those who just want to criticise,” he said.
Those wanting to help the effort can contact Jens at The Corner Restaurant at 118/1 Bandon – Cherng Talay Road or by email at email@example.com, or contact Jens through his Facebook page or call him directly at 066-1649914.