Feeding Hope: The Heartwarming Story of Neela Neela
A Chef’s Compassionate Response to Disaster
Former chef Neela Neela exhibited an extraordinary act of compassion by cooking over 170,000 meals for families and volunteers affected by Cyclone Gabrielle in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. This remarkable endeavor was initiated six days a week out of her garage, eventually moving to a kitchen at the back of an Asian supermarket in Napier. Her efforts were primarily funded by generous donations from the public and businesses, but also from her own life savings of $25,000, which have now been entirely consumed.
Community Recognition and Reward
The community has recognized Neela’s tireless dedication to helping those affected by the cyclone. To express their gratitude, they have arranged to fund a trip back to her home country, Thailand, which will be her first visit in 12 years. The House of Travel Jenny Nilsson in Hastings has generously covered her airfare, while others have collected donations for her to spend during her trip. This visit will enable her to lay her parents’ ashes at a temple and meet her five-year-old grandson for the first time.
Stirring Up Hope with Free Thai Food
Neela’s mission to feed the cyclone-affected families began after witnessing the devastation caused by the storm. She returned to the disaster-stricken area with 25 meals and a sign saying ‘free Thai food’. Her work quickly gained attention, and locals began assisting her in preparing, packing, and delivering the meals.
Community Voices: Neela’s Impact
Peni Edwards, a volunteer organizer, lauded Neela as an “absolute godsend” for the community. He praised her ceaseless efforts, noting that she even delivered meals herself. Nilsson from House of Travel also expressed admiration for Neela’s dedication and spirit, explaining that covering her airfare was their way of saying thank you.
Looking Ahead: A Dream of a Food Truck
Despite her resources running out, Neela expressed her willingness to continue cooking if more funds were made available. She dreams of starting a food truck business that she could mobilize to help more people across New Zealand in the event of another disaster. Neela’s story is a shining example of how one person’s dedication and compassion can bring light to a community during its darkest times.
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