SURAT THANI — Expats residing in Thailand are offering aid such as free food and lodging to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – even after Koh Samui police warned a group of foreign volunteers for not observing social distancing during their charity event.
Germans Sam Gruber and Florenz Kittel on Koh Samui are handing out food donations on Koh Samui Friday. The group ran into trouble earlier this week when they were summoned by local police and reprimanded for failing to organize their donations to migrant workers in a safe manner.
The summon came after they posted videos of themselves donating food to migrant workers on the island. The police said the workers did not wear masks and the organizers did not notify the authorities in advance as required. The expats were also told to delete the videos of the donation.
Read: Woman Charged for Handing Out Donations, Breaching Virus Guidelines
“We were made to realize who’s big and who’s small in this country,” the men say in a video they posted about the police encounter.
Suppakiat Petchaset, chief of security affairs on Koh Samui, said Tuesday that the videos could “cause other countries to misunderstand that Thailand has no preventative measures, affecting the country’s image.”
“They were not detained, we just summoned them for a discussion. They willingly deleted it,” Suppakiat said by phone on Friday. “They just wanted to donate items but didn’t know about social distancing.”
But the expats were back with their charity initiatives on Friday. Gruber posted that security officers now helped the group hand out the food.
“It wasn’t that easy to sort out the rushing crowd of hungry people – but it worked thanks to the authority of the Thais involved! We learned our lesson and we do nothing without their help,” he wrote.
Since April 3, The Cove Pub in Pattaya has been giving out around 240 boxes of free food per day to Thais and tourists, and Friday is no exception.
“So many people cannot go back to their countries,” Russian national Kate Khevuk, the The Cove Pub manager, said. “They don’t have money. And so many Thai people don’t have work, and we are trying to help everyone.”
There are usually more hungry people in line, mostly Thais, than there are boxes. Khevuk, 24, recalls that there was one Thai mom who used to come line up for food, but they had run out that day. The volunteers offered her mors, a Russian cranberry drink, and said that she could give it to her baby instead.
“We said, ‘sorry there’s no food, but you can give this special drink to your baby. She said thank you so much, I never thought that I would get this.’ The next day she brought her baby and said thank you, and cried,” Khevuk said.
The pub’s food donations are funded out of their own pocket. They usually consist of chicken dishes such as chicken stew, fried rice with chicken, or spicy soup with mushrooms and chicken. Khevuk says they plan to keep on donating until the economic effects of the coronavirus has subsided.
On Wednesday, the Russian Embassy in Thailand compiled a list of at least nine groups of Russians who were offering aid in Phuket, Pattaya, and Bangkok such as offering hotel rooms to stranded tourists for free, giving out meals.
Some also offered help in rescheduling flights and visa issues.
In the northern province of Chiang Mai, a group of foreign pensioners and their friends banded together for a good cause.
The group was led by Australian Dave Noy, 72, who donated truckfuls of rice and other food to the poor in the area on Thursday.
Noy was joined by his Thai wife Watini Noy, 48, and his friends: Americans Paul Urschalitz and Fred Vinson, American-Australian Carl Barrow, Briton Dave Murphy, and German Klaus Limmer.
“We were watching the news and saw it was not good. People are hungry and we just wanted to help out where we could because we live here,” Noy, 72 said by phone Friday.
The group gave sacks of rice, fish sauce, and other seasonings to the Aim to Kids charity foundation, as well as the Nam Phrae and Nong Khwai subdistrict municipal offices, who will then pass on the donations to the poor and bedridden registered at the offices. Noy said his group also gave out rice to those affected by COVID-19 last week.
“Rather than stand on the road and give out packages, we wanted to give to people who haven’t got a scooter, or car, or can’t get up,” Noy said. “We want to give food to the right people.”
“We’re not young men. We’re all old people,” Noy said, laughing. The oldest in the group is 83.
According to social media photos, Backside Bar and Bistro in Phuket and a group of expats handed out food to locals on the island earlier this week.
Another Facebook post said its Thai landlords also gave their support to the charity event.
In Bangkok, foreign entrepreneurs, including the owner of Dinner in the Sky Thailand, recently donated food and essential supplies to Klong Toey slum community, one of the largest shanty towns in Thailand.
The group said its next project would involve a donation to the Rajavithi Hospital.