“We wanted to help. We were sitting at home when we realized that there were a lot of people who needed to eat and were out of their jobs,” relates Greg Lange and Friso Poldervaart, the two main founders of Bangkok Community Help Foundation, the organization that has been a boon to the less fortunate communities in Khlong Toei during this pandemic.
Lange, who’s also the owner of go-to Mexican restaurant Sunrise Taco, and Poldervaart, who gave rise to the now-defunct Dinner in the Sky Thailand, united back in April 2020 right when COVID-19 began to sheathe its claws in the capital. They launched the foundation with a goal to bring about “the betterment of the Khlong Toei community and others in need.”
Providing food was the initial motive. “We have helped at least half a million people and that’s quite an achievement.” Every day, Bangkok Community Help Foundation provides around 3,000 meals, and 200 to 500 survivor bags that pack instant noodles, six kilograms of rice and canned fish to Khlong Toei residents.
“COVID has mutated and so have we.” Ironically, the appearance of other variants has inspired the foundation to do more for the community. “After [last April and May], we decided to focus more on more long-term projects, like building houses for people, turning a garbage dump into a park and teaching kids,” the founders explain. “The aim is to develop the communities and the people within. Our vision is to give people fishing rods instead of the fish.”
Lange and Poldervaart, alongside many other volunteers at the foundation, are also helping out on the COVID front. “During the third and fourth waves, we focused on feeding people, supplying medicine, providing oxygen tanks for patients waiting for a hospital bed to free up,” says Poldervaart, “We also built a community isolation center where infected residents can quarantine themselves.”
Lange adds, “Now that the numbers are starting to come down, we are focusing on testing. We want to see how many people have actually caught COVID, not just those who showed up at the facilities or walk-in cases.”
So far, the foundation has been testing about 2,500 individuals every Saturday, Sunday and Monday using an imported test kit, and spending about B400,000 each time. “We get support from all over the world, but primarily from people in Thailand. We do our best to reach out to people by being completely transparent. We make an effort to impart stories from the communities, and show every project on social media so people can see that what we’re doing is real and actually happening.”
The foundation hopes to keep on going, even when the pandemic has subsided. Lange and Poldervaart, who are now “deeply connected with the people in the community”, feel that they still have a lot to accomplish in the future. “We plan to build a database for people looking for work. A lot of people [living in Khlong Toei] are day workers so it’s hard for them to succeed, which is why we want to do as much as we can to educate them so they can get higher-paying jobs.” The foundation is also looking to expand in other areas, such as Bang Sue, Wattana and Samut Prakan. “Once COVID subsides, we can’t wait to continue on to other long-term projects.”