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Cambodian Space Project’s rescue landing

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Street children began returning for free meals at a venue operted by Buckhunger near the Russian Market this week. It was forced to close last month after running out of cash, but has re-opened with new sponsors. Photograph: Photo Supplied

Buckhunger, the non-profit that had to stop providing free lunches to impoverished children living around the Russian Market after running out of cash last month, is bouncing back with a bit of help from, among others, the band the Cambodian Space Project.

The NGO closed in early May when its founder Johnny Philips ran out of cash after providing about 32,000 free lunches to children since last December. It re-opened on Father’s Day after receiving a donation from a father and son in Singapore, and this Sunday the Cambodian Space Project will perform at a street party to raise more funds for the project.

“I am thrilled,” Philips told 7Days. “This is a project that I and a good deal of others believe in and feel needs to exist because of the good it does for so many with such a small amount of resources,” he said, adding that with “only a little input and we can do so much good”.

Julien Poulson, founder of Cambodian Space Project, was equally enthusiastic. “The band feels strongly about people giving to others,” he said, explaining that after reading about Buckhunger’s closure he decided a street party would be a good way to lend a hand. “Bands are good at making a noise so I called [Philips] with the idea of a street party to draw some people along and direct some more attention to the work he is doing.”

Philips said that since the re-opening, children began returning slowly. “The first day was only 15, [but] keep in mind that after being closed for six weeks they lost faith in us,” he explained. By Tuesday, however, there were 60. “Food news travels fast with street kids.”

Loss of trust could also hinder donors, but Philips says he’s adjusted his strategy and believes the world is full of pent up generosity. “I feel the issue so far may have been trust in us. Once people actually see what we do they are quite excited to support us, and what makes us very unusual is that there is no waste, no fluff, no extravagance. We take a very few dollars and turn them into to hundreds of meals that make hundreds of kids content with a clean safe place to eat, be with their peers and have a full stomach. Buckhunger works.”

“We feed three kids for US$1,” he noted.

He’s also looking towards a sponsorship model rather than relying in individual donations. “The sponsors I am most interested in however are those that deal with food such as super markets and wholesalers, which have an obvious interest as the kids will become customers in later life and entities like Cambodian Space Project that has a particular message that they are conveying, but also believe in what they are saying and sharing,” he said.

Philips said the closure of the Buckhunger left him severely depressed but also taught him a few lessons. “Even if you do have a strategic plan in place you are probably going to have to change it,” he said. “I’m a veteran restaurateur but am new to the charity world and have learned that having a big heart means you better have a whole lot of money or be willing to alter your methods and have a whole lot of money. Our recent reopening is a refocused and streamlined operation that does more with a good deal less than before, but you know, it still takes money to buy food, pay rent and water, no matter what the strategy.”

Philips says Buckhunger’s future lies in the public’s realisation that “poor hungry kids deserve to get a good meal at least once a day without begging, without stealing, without humiliating themselves”.

Sunday’s street party takes place from 3pm to 7pm at #250L, Street 460 (at the intersection with St 105) Sponsors include SABAY Entertainment, Wine Warehouse, VTV, Hungrygowhere.com, Equinox and private donors. For more information visit www.buckhunger.com.

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