Sjømannskirken i Pattaya – the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Pattaya – has been giving away free basic food packages every Thursday since the closing of the city created economic hardship for thousands of local Thais whose income used to depend on the now banned tourists.
ScandAsia visited the church on Thursday 23rd of April to witness this amazing humanitarian initiative.
“People in Pattaya are so friendly and welcoming, so we are happy and proud to give something back to them,” says Camilla Myhre, a volunteer at Sjømannskirken.
“Nobody would stand in this heat for an unknown amount of time if they didn’t really need our help.”
The amount of people coming to receive food has exploded over the last weeks. When the first hand-out was hosted the Norwegian Church had prepared 200 packages of food – but 400 people came. Then the number of packages increased to 700 – but around 1.500 appeared. On 23 April 2020 the Norwegian Seamen’s Church has prepared between 1500 to 2000 packages.
“We didn’t expect it to blow up like it did. But the more people that come, the more we will increase our number of relief-packages,” says Camilla Myhre.
The handout was supposed to start at 16.00. But at 14.00, two long lines of Thai people had already formed running from the Norwegian Seamen’s Church and out onto Thappraya Road. The people stand in neat queues, covering themselves from the sun, with distance between each other while local police are keeping watch and maintains safety and social distancing.
“Even if the event starts at 16, the people will show up many hours before, just to secure a spot in the queue. So we decided as soon as the first person arrived to start distributing the food, so they don’t have to wait for hours in the heat,” says Camilla Myhre.
The lines steadily move forward under the high heat of the burning Thai summer, the people waiting and muttering in anticipation of receiving the package that will help them overcome the loss of their previous income for the time being.
As the people reach the Norwegian Church they are met with organized chaos in the form of masked and gloved police, security people and volunteers from the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, their shirts stained dark as they work under the sweltering summer sun, while their hairlines are painted with beads of sweat. At the front of the queue, police and security check the people temperatures and require people to sanitize their hands and keep distance before they can move forward to receive their food from different stands.
The stands are structured in a U-form to ensure a well-oiled machine that can quickly and efficiently hand out and deliver the products of the relief-package; one volunteer hands out bags of rice, another distributes water, a third hands out eggs and so on. The U-structure also makes sure people enter and leave from different places, preventing many people clustering.
“It’s definitely more structured and organized than the first times we handed out the relief-packages,” says Camilla Myhre.
Not many minutes pass and then in a blink of an eye, the queue is near empty while people trot away holding their bag full of rice, noodles, oil, fish sauce, water, eggs and canned food like a prized possession. Families sit on the side of the road covered by their umbrellas as they wait for their family members to join them so they can go home.
“The people in need comes in waves at different times,” adds Camilla Myhre.
The relief-packages includes 2 kilos of rice, two packages of noodles, 2 liters of water, a bottle of fish sauce, canned food and a bottle of cooking oil. The content was chosen with the guidance of a local Thai woman, who explained to the Church that a standard Thai family can make these products go a long way.
As the last package was handed out at 16 (the time the distribution was supposed to start), 1850 relief-packages had been handed out.
“We are very happy that everybody who came got a relief-package,” says Camilla Myhre.
“If we ever have any food left over, then we will save it until the next hand-out,” adds the the volunteer.
Almost 393.600 baht has been used to distribute 20.000 eggs, 4 tons of rice, fish sauce, cooking oil, water, noodles and canned food.
The Norwegian Seamen’s Church announced on their Facebook that despite their willingness and hopes to continuously distribute food to Thai people in need, they don’t have the financial means to continue if they don’t receive donations to keep up the increasing amount of food.
If a person wishes to donate to keep the distribution of food going, they can donate via VIPSS on the number #64812.
The Danish Church in Thailand has donated money in support of the work of their sisterchurch.