A woman gives money to a beggar with a child on a street in Bangkok on May 11. (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP)
As many poor Thais have gone jobless and hungry during the economically ruinous coronavirus pandemic, other locals are helping out: by feeding their neighbors.
Charitable citizens have been setting up so-called “pantries for sharing gladly,” known locally as tou paan sook, around towns and cities for their less fortunate fellows.
In glass cabinets placed on streets, charitable souls deposit bags of rice, packets of instant noodles, biscuits and other essential food items they buy at convenience stores. Newly jobless locals without enough money to buy food are then free to select any items they fancy.
Most people reportedly take only as much food as they need, leaving the rest for others in similarly dire situations.
“These pantries are great,” an elderly man who was laid off as a security guard at a hotel in a city in northeastern Thailand told a local newspaper. “Old people, garbage pickers and the poor can come to get things here without squeezing into queues.”
In recent weeks, as millions of low-income earners have lost their jobs owing to a nationwide lockdown, long queues have been forming at Buddhist temples and other places of charity where food is being handed out to people who have found themselves on a starvation diet without a steady income.
Seeing these pitiful sights of desperate people lining up often all day long for some food, some locals decided to pitch in by handing out food donations on their own. In response, however, authorities have threatened to take action against them for ignoring social distancing rules.
Those reprimanded included a group of foreign residents on the tourist island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand who handed out food to poor people queuing up in long lines.
Angered by the heavy-handed response from officials, some Thais have thought up another way to distribute food by setting up “sharing pantries” in Bangkok and elsewhere, then posting about the initiative on social media so that others could follow suit.
Many Buddhist donors see their food donations as a way of making merit by doing a good deed according to the tenets of their religion. “Sharing with those suffering is a way to make merit,” one woman told a local newspaper.
The charitable donations are welcomed by their recipients. “It really helps me and my family to get something to eat during this difficult time,” a newly unemployed turner in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen was quoted as saying. “I wish all donors prosperity and happiness.”