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This CBD restaurant is handing out free meals to struggling Melburnians – and you can help

You can help them give out more meals by donating to their GoFundMe campaign

Written by
Sarah Theeboom

Over lockdown, Alan Chong has been travelling back and forth between his home and his restaurant, Tiān38 on Flinders Lane. While in the city he often comes across people who are struggling or even destitute. He began to think about the people he knew who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic – out of work chefs, staff members who are not eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker, and international students who are his regular customers. “I realised there must be heaps more people in a similar situation,” says Chong. “So I started thinking about ways we could help.”

Chong decided to organise a food drop at his restaurant on July 25. He prepared 30 meals and spread the word on social media and among his network. On the night, a queue quickly formed around the block. Chong took one look and yelled at the kitchen staff to start packing more food. They ended up giving out 60 meals that night, double what they had anticipated.

Chong organised another food drop the following week, and then another, setting up a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of what has become a weekly food drop. The campaign has raised $7,885 in three weeks, making it possible for the restaurant to hand out more than 300 meals as well as care packages containing food and essential supplies.

“Every week I’m in a bit of shock because of a. the magnitude of people that need to be helped, and b. the response from the community. It’s great to see the community rally but it’s a sad situation that we’re trying to combat,” says Chong.

According to Chong, many of the customers they serve at the food drop are international visa holders who aren’t eligible for social welfare but are scared to leave because of extremely high Covid infection rates back home.

“We need to raise awareness that there are lots of people who are falling through the cracks and they need our support,” says Chong. “This is not a one-restaurant solution.”

A second restaurant, Omi, is collaborating with Chong to provide meals for an extra food drop this week. Although Omi is currently unable to operate at its QV premises, they’re hoping that by working together, they will be able to increase the quantity and frequency of the meal distribution.

“Customers can’t dine in anymore but we still want to serve people in some shape or form,” says Chong. “That’s the crux of hospitality.”

If you’d like to support this local initiative and help struggling Melburnians through this time, donate to the GoFundMe page here.

Here are some more ways to help the Melbourne community right now.

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