*Jack Anuwat (Photo: Siana Stojcevski)

“Sometimes, you’ve got to let people help themselves. But if there is another lockdown, I’ll be here.”

From Quay Street through to the Goods Line, Thai university students carrying empty bags and standing one and a half metres apart, form a line.

It’s 2pm in the middle of Sydney’s coronavirus lockdown and the owner of Haymarket’s Jumbo Thai, Jack Anuwat, is handing out hot meals, water and a dessert – for free. “It started with 20, 30, 40 then 70 people [then] there was 109 people in one day,” Jack says.

But just three months later, the students and tourists have gone and Jumbo Thai is closing down.

“People won’t remember me – who I am,” Jack says. “Even if I was to die of COVID it wouldn’t matter. [But] they will remember what I’ve done.”


Jack started giving out the basics to Thai students – eggs, water and rice – after the Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered anyone arriving in the country to self-isolate for 14 days.

“The first group I thought about was Thai students because I used to be a student, and how can you stay 14 days home alone? How can they eat? They can’t.”


Jack and some of the Thai students queueing for food during the lockdown (Photo: Supplied)


It wasn’t until the lockdown of essential services that Jack had the idea of cooking full meals. From that point until the end of the lockdown, fresh food was prepared at 10am and served at 2pm, seven days a week.

“We had four hours to make a hundred meals,” Jack says. And they weren’t from the regular Jumbo Thai menu.

(Photo: Supplied)

“We cleared the menu especially for them. [They] don’t need to worry, [they] don’t need to be missing their mum; their dad. We cooked them the meals from their homes.”

“One thing I do believe with the meals… is that when you feel hungry… you’re not doing anything, you just think about being hungry. But when you eat something, you feel full and you’re happy. That means you have enough power to help other people. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

The government’s $130bn stimulus package drew the line at temporary visa-holders, leaving over half a million international students ineligible for welfare support and, in some cases, without a job or food on the table.

Thai student Phanna Thian, says what Jack was doing was good for those in isolation: “I’m glad to hear that people in the local Thai community are reaching out and supporting students who might be struggling.”


Giving back to the community isn’t new for Jack. When Wat Buddha Dhamma, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Australia, burnt down in the bushfires, Jack sold meals and clothes to raise money for its restoration. Before that, he regularly donated to those in need in Thailand and helped build a toilet block for a temple near where he grew up as a child.

“Some Christians try to build churches, some Muslims try to build mosques, some Buddhists try to build more temples. But me, I’m not a person like that. If I’m going to build, I’m going to build toilets right next to the temple. You know why? If you don’t go to the toilet, what do you feel? If you really, really, need to go to the toilet and there’s no toilet or… if the conditions are very bad, what do you do? You don’t go. How [would] you feel?”

(Photo: Siana Stojcevski)

During the lockdown, the money Jack made from take-away meals helped cover the cost of feeding the students. His team grew to include 70 workers and volunteers, who helped with cooking, preparing and serving the meals. One volunteer was a former employee and a good friend who asked only to be referred to as “a part of the Jumbo Thai team.”

“The thing [Jack] does is a good thing, and that’s why we help him out,” she said.

Jack’s actions also inspired other restaurants such as Capital Thai and Siam Central to offer free meals. But not everybody was on-board with his ideas. He says he received backlash from Chinese students, who asked why they couldn’t take the food as well.

“I can’t help all of Australia. I’m only a small business owner. Chinese people have to ask their community for help. That’s what I’m trying to do, I want to inspire other communities to start to help their own communities.”

When his project was reported by the ABC, local residents and those living on the street started lining up too. So Jack and his team decided to regroup to figure out how to handle the demand.

“I’ve got to thank my volunteers. they’re professional chefs and they don’t want to get paid. I’m just the organiser. I am very lucky I know a lot of people [like this] and lucky to have the business in the first place.

When asked about his plans for the future, Jack said he will continue helping the Thai community as much as he can, as well as keeping in contact with his wife and son who are currently stuck in Thailand due to travel restrictions.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to let people help themselves. But if there is another lockdown, I’ll be here.”

— Siana Stojcevski @ssianche