Just two months into its existence the local initiative Local4Local is launching another project to fight hunger called the Cyclo Community Pantry, or Cyclo, Pantry with support from the Cyclo Association.

During the lockdown of Phnom Penh in April, Local4Local was established by a Cambodian college student stuck at home and unable to resume his studies in person back in the freezing winters of St Paul, the capital city of the state of Minnesota in the US.

Local4Local’s overall mission is to provide food assistance to the poor and underprivileged people of Phnom Penh and their cyclo pantry programme will be Phnom Penh’s first mobile community pantry with groceries donated by the local community delivered to those in need via cyclos.

The cyclo drivers – who will also benefit from the campaign – will distribute the donated groceries and essential items to different areas in the city where people in need live.

Founder of Local4Local Taing Huang Hao, 21, told The Post that “the cyclo pantry creates community solidarity through sharing and kindness to people in need. It also shines a positive light on cyclo drivers and helps to sustain the livelihoods of the cyclo drivers and people living on the street”.

“And [the programme] also makes these vulnerable cyclo drivers feel happy spiritually and emotionally because I have spoken with them and they say things like ‘if we do good, we will receive good’ and their spiritual belief is that by sharing these donations of food and necessities to others in need, their good deeds will be returned to them in kind,” he says.

The community pantries rest on the cyclo seats where people are normally seated. A passing motorist might observe a refrigerator-like box taking a cyclo ride along the riverside. Anyone can hail the cyclo driver – not for a ride, but to donate anything they’d like to the pantry.

At present there is only one mobile pantry and it will be going around the riverside and Wat Botum areas in the mornings and sometimes the afternoons.

Cyclo drivers play an important role for Cyclo Pantry. Photo supplied

“People can donate necessities such as meals, masks, water, canned goods, books, clothing and any non-perishable foods,” said Hao, who was inspired to start these charity programmes by a cyclo driver who drove him around the city.

Hao plans to deploy more cyclo pantries in the city across eight to 10 different zones he has identified and he’d like to extend the programme to the provinces.

Since the concept of food banks or community pantries are somewhat new to the Kingdom, Hao said, he hopes that this generosity will inspire others to start similar programmes throughout Cambodia.

“I encourage all restaurants and shops to have a donation site inside their store with a sign suggesting that their customers donate or drop off necessities. Once a day, the cyclo drivers can come around to their location to pick up donations to restock the mobile pantries and distribute the items to those in need,” Hao says.

Hao is running the campaign himself and doing everything from graphic design to donations outreach and coordinating the logistics.

“Hopefully the cyclo pantry will become a community initiative that is locally sustainable,” he says.

Hao says he first encountered the idea of having small pantries with free items installed in front of homes and schools online and he wanted to bring the idea to Cambodia.

“During Covid-19 it has been hard for people to go outside so that’s how the idea of the cyclo community pantry began, because it allows the pantry to travel around so people can donate or receive items close to home,” says Hao.

Hao’s Local4Local campaign was also inspired by a mobile food truck that would regularly come to the University of St Thomas campus in St. Paul while Hao was studying there to distribute free groceries to people from the neighbourhood.

Local4Local’s services focus on helping street people or homeless people who have been made especially vulnerable in the Covid-19 era. Local street food vendors have seen their sales plummet and cyclo drivers have hardly been able to earn any living at all during the pandemic due to the lack of tourists.

Local4Local’s initial programme uses money from donors to pay street food vendors to supply meals and pay cyclo drivers to deliver them to those in need. Though the organisation is only two months old and was launched by a 21-year-old student, it has already achieved quite a bit.

Nearly 17,000 warm meals have already been distributed to people in need and over 760 families have been given support with Covid-relief packages in the red and orange zones in Phnom Penh during the lockdown – and the relief package programme has now been extended to Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet-town.

Local4Local has also been hosting weekly cyclo tours to help sustain employment for cyclo drivers. The weekly tour is one of many initiatives, which also include food coupons that people can exchange for warm meals and a volunteer kitchen programme where students and their friends are encouraged to host a soup kitchen and cook meals for those in need.

“The food coupon programme is planned to debut around mid-June, and it will start with 130 cyclo drivers and it also has the support of the Cyclo Association,” says Hao.

Each cyclo driver will receive 10 coupons that are valid for two weeks and each coupon can be exchanged for a meal at designated street food vendors.

Hao says the purpose of the food coupon is to reduce the amount of contact between people in light of Covid-19 and that they can be used by anyone – not just cyclo drivers – to get a free meal.

Local4Local launches the Cyclo Pantry where people can donate and receive necessities. Photo supplied

“Local4Local is also trying to encourage volunteer programmes among youth in schools in Cambodia too,” Hao says.

Local4Local has received support from Chea Serey’s Raksa Koma Foundation, Tiger Beer, PPC Bank and other corporations along with publicity from partners like Grab, WOWNOW, MUUVE and more.

Hao also mentions that Prudential Cambodia is collaborating with Local4Local on a “Futuristic Cyclo Competition” to build a bridge between the cyclo drivers and the artistic community in solidarity and to provide an opportunity for illustrators to use their creativity and imaginations to design the future for cyclos.

“We’ve received a lot of support from artists. Some of them I know personally as friends, but the majority of them I’ve met on social media as strangers after they followed @Local4Localkh on Facebook/Instagram,” says Hao.

It has been around eighteen months since Hao came back to Cambodia to visit his parents on a short break between semesters from his university in the US, but he says being stuck in his home country has turned out great because it gave him the opportunity to do something good for people in need as a consequence.

“I’m still a year three student in Minnesota, and I will be going back to the United States around September. The hope is that there will be a way to keep Local4Local sustainable [without me present],” Hao says.

For more details, please contact Hao via email: [email protected]

Donations to Local4Local can be made via ABA account: 002 851 840 (Taing Huang Hao).