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Temple's free vegetables initiative sparks saving spree

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A friend where needed: A family picks vegetables given away for free at Wat Bang Khonthi Nai in Samut Songkhram province. The free produce project has forged a sense of sharing and enabled some families to put away money for a rainy day.

Every Friday, Od can save up to 150 baht on her grocery shopping bill by collecting vegetables given away for free at Wat Bang Khonthi Nai in Samut Songkhram province.

The trip is worth the cost of her motorcycle petrol because the vegetables she picks up are enough to feed her family for three days. Od is a beneficiary of a project to help folk save money through the practice of sharing.

Od, 45, works at a factory in nearby Ratchaburi province. “If I get off work early on a Friday, I will drive my motorcycle 30 kilometres to the temple for the free vegetables,” she said.

Od has managed to save the money she does not spend on buying vegetables. She saves money by estimating how much she would spend on vegetables and puts away the equivalent amount in a piggy bank.

“It’s more important more than ever now to have something to fall back on because of the Covid-19 crisis,” she said. “We need an emergency fund.”

Her ability to save money is made possible by a project called “Pun Phak Pun Sook Wan Sook Wen Sook” or “Sharing Vegetables, Sharing Happiness, Every Other Friday”.

The project distributes donated food items such as vegetables, eggs and canned fish. Wat Khonthi Nai in the province’s Bang Khonthi district organises the giveaway on the second and fourth weeks of every month from 4pm to 5pm.

People stream into the temple, shuffling in and out of stalls to pick up vegetables and other food items, during its “happy hour”. Crowds are controlled through the distribution of queue cards.

Each person receives up to two items, and most people grab eggs first. If there are enough donated produce and food leftover, the items are given away in a second round until every item is distributed. The project’s organisers say no one goes home empty-handed.

The temple, which grows popular backyard vegetable varieties, donates long beans, eggplants and chillies, while other vegetables are sourced from households encouraged by the Khonthi Tambon Administrative Organisation (TAO) to plant garden vegetables. The households contribute excess vegetables to the project.

As for other food items, such as eggs and canned fish, Renoo Leknimit, chairwoman of the TAO, said they come from the food alms collected by monks under the TAO’s jurisdiction.

She said some vegetables were bought using money given by disabled workers or their relatives under the Disabled Workers’ Quality of Life Promotion Act.

The workers are those who have landed jobs with the help of the TAO. Each gives away one day’s worth of their daily wage, or 133 baht, every month to fund the purchase of vegetables and food items to be donated.

Ms Renoo said news about the donations is passed through word of mouth and recipients are mostly low-income workers. Nicha, a volunteer handing out queue cards at the temple, said she secured employment under the Life Promotion Act and contributed monthly toward the food giveaway’s fund.

She is working as a full-time caregiver for a bed-ridden elderly couple in the district. “We’re proud to be able to take care of the disabled in our community and earn income for my family,” Nicha said. “If we didn’t have a job, we would all be in a difficult position financially.”

Under the act, state agencies and private companies are required to employ people with disabilities.

It aims to have at least one disabled employee per 1,000 workers. If employers do not hire disabled workers, companies are required to contribute money to a central fund set up to improve the welfare and standard of living of disabled people.

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