It was the end of another day in lockdown, but Sydney’s Thai Town was still very busy. Maggie Karnkanit, and her fiancé, Jack Mellon, became unsettled by what they saw as they drove past.
There were scores of people vying to get their hands on leftover food which restaurants and cafes normally throw out, and they were putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 by queuing outside in large numbers.
“I was pretty overwhelmed by how in need they were. I felt lucky to be in a situation where I wasn’t in their shoes,” Mr Mellon said.
Since witnessing those scenes two weeks ago, Ms Karnkanit, who is originally from Thailand, has single-handedly prepared more than 200 home-cooked meals for international students doing it tough amid the pandemic.
Like temporary migrant workers, they aren’t eligible to receive stimulus payments because they’ve have been left out of the government’s coronavirus support packages.
Ms Karnkanit posts on Facebook what food she has to offer then arranges for as many as 11 students to meet in the foyer of the couple’s apartment building every day to pick up a free meal.
She’s met students who’ve recently become homeless due to being evicted from their share house after losing jobs and having no income to pay for rent, let alone food.
On Good Friday, Ms Karnkanit with the help of her partner gave away 80 meals.
When she posted to Facebook they would be in Sydney’s CBD giving away free food, the couple never expected more than 200 hungry international students would show up. The meals were snapped up within 15 minutes.
“There were three times more people waiting for food. So we didn’t have enough to go around which was very sad,” Mr Mellon said.
“We’re trying to help as much as we can. Everybody needs some help at the moment.”
Seeing how “all these international students… are really struggling to make ends meet”, the couple is planning on another large meal distribution in Sydney’s CBD on Anzac Day.
They had originally scheduled to get married in Thailand on April 25 but were forced to postpone their wedding, just like many other engaged couples.
They’ll instead be spending that day handing meals out to struggling, cash-strapped students. Ms Karnkanit plans on cooking about 120 meals.
“We will take the car in (to Sydney’s CBD) with a load of meals all boxed up and then put out out a trestle table on the footpath,” Mr Mellon said.
“These students know to queue up in an orderly fashion … and they’ll just grab a container and move on,” he added.
Ms Karnkanit has enjoyed preparing so many home-cooked meals.
Cooking is something she does for fun, and with other people contributing ingredients, she intends on cooking for as long as needed.
“I’m happy when people eat my food. When they say thank you it makes my heart warm,” she said.