BANGKOK, September 22 (Reuters) – A group of Thai monks and volunteers wearing protective gear carefully navigate the bumpy roads of a Bangkok suburb in a golf cart, pulling a trailer loaded with fresh vegetables.
“The grocery store is here! The grocery store is there! A monk announces through a loudspeaker.
Their mission is to provide food and basic necessities to vulnerable people hard hit by the pandemic.
Monk Pornchai Kabmalee, 28, came up with the idea a few months ago when he saw hardship in a community near his temple, Wat Siriphong Thamma Nimit.
“I can say our truck basically has everything a supermarket has,” he said.
“I’m afraid (of the virus) like other human beings, but for me I’m more afraid of not being able to help others.”
The truck comes out on Sundays, makes several trips and reaches hundreds, if not thousands of people every month, Pornchai said.
When the truck arrives, residents begin to assemble, each being allowed to pick up five bags of produce, such as tomatoes, pumpkins, garlic and chili peppers, as well as other goods like soap, rice and eggs.
“This food will make me less hungry for a few days,” said Montri Boontheab, who drove a bus for Chinese visitors before the coronavirus put the brakes on tourism.
“I have been unemployed for a year and I do not yet see my future.”
Thailand has recorded more than 1.5 million COVID-19 infections and 15,600 deaths, 99% of which since April, straining its economy.
The products cost at least 50,000 baht ($ 1,498) per week, which the monks say initially came from their own pockets. But as word of mouth spreads, more and more donations are coming in.
Pornchai is not sure how long the temple will provide the service, but looks forward to the day when it is no longer needed.
“When people can smile again, that’s when I’ll know the mission has been accomplished,” he said.
Editing by Martin Petty and Philippa Fletcher
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