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Meet the Brunswick woman feeding Melbourne’s homeless

Rain, hail or shine, Cecilia Chuah serves up a weekly meal for more than 150 homeless people

 

Phaik See (Cecilia) Chuah at the Queen Victoria Market while homeless people queue up behind her for a meal.

Mark Phillips
Friday, November 5, 2021

Meet the Brunswick

woman feeding

Melbourne’s homeless

Phaik See (Cecilia) Chuah at the Queen Victoria Market while homeless people queue up behind her for a meal.

Rain, hail or shine, Cecilia Chuah serves up a weekly meal for more than 150 homeless people

Mark Phillips
Friday, November 5, 2021

BRUNSWICK West woman Phaik See “Cecilia” Chuah wasn’t seeking any recognition or rewards when she began serving home cooked meals to Melbourne’s homeless community 18 months ago. 

She just wanted to provide the homeless who gather around the Queen Victoria Market with a fresh, nutritious and tasty meal at least once a week. 

Now close to 200 people are fed by Cecilia, also known as “CC”, and a group of helpers every Tuesday night, and she has become confidante, counselor and friend to many of them. 

For her work, the 49-year-old mother of two has been nominated for the Victorian Local Hero category of the 2022 Australian of the Year awards. 

Should she win when the awards are announced next Wednesday, she will travel to Canberra for the Australian of the Year ceremony outside Parliament House on January 25. 

She has no idea by whom or how she was nominated, but says she feels humbled to be a finalist. 

“I’ve done a little bit of community work here and there and always put others before myself and want to do a little more to make people happy,” she says. “I’m not a rich person, I’m just doing a little bit when I can.” 

Cecilia serves up a meal to one of her regulars.

It all began on an autumn night last year when Cecilia was driving past the Queen Victoria Market delivering her home cooked Malaysian meals to clients. 

Noticing a group of homeless people sheltering under the awnings of the sheds on the edge of Melbourne’s CBD, she went home, cooked as much fried rice as she could pack into four spare containers, and returned to the market with the food. 

The next week, those four containers became 20. Word of mouth spread among Melbourne’s homeless community, and now dozens of people are already queueing up when Cecilia and a group of helpers arrive at dusk every Tuesday to dish up more than 150 meals. 

Cecilia admits she felt “out of my comfort zone” on that first night in May last year but no matter what the weather, she hasn’t missed a single Tuesday since.

Fortunately, she lives just within five kilometres of the market so was able to continue providing the meals throughout all of Melbourne’s lockdowns. 

She has no official backing and is not associated with any church or charitable organisation but simply acts out of the goodness of her heart.  

“It’s become like a big community and now they look forward to every Tuesday because it’s a very healthy hot meal cooked especially for them,” Cecilia says.  

“To see the smiles on their faces and have them asking for seconds makes me very happy.” 

The Asian influenced meals usually include noodles, spring rolls and dim sims, and fresh fruit donated by market vendors. On Melbourne Cup Day, a warm spring night brought out close to 200 people who were served a chicken curry in addition to the usual fare. 

Cecilia’s husband Chai Lim, 21-year-old son Shane, 17-year-old daughter Shanice, and a circle of friends help with the cooking and serving, including one woman who bakes cookies every week. 

At Christmas last year, they filled 150 backpacks with shampoo, chocolates and other treats. This year, Cecilia has written to the major supermarket chains asking for donations of cooler bags which they aim to fill with socks, underwear and other practical gifts. 

Top: Cecilia and her band of volunteer helpers. Above: Joe has been a regular since the very first night Cecilia began providing home cooked meals at the market.

The very first person Cecilia approached with a meal on that night in May last year was Joe, a middle-aged man in a wheelchair. He has since obtained accommodation through the NDIS away in another suburb but will catch the train into the city every Tuesday for dinner with CC, as much for the company as for the food. 

Another regular, “Painter”, was living rough for several years but credits Cecilia for major changes in her life over the past 12 months. She has stopped using drugs, obtained permanent accommodation, put an abusive relationship behind her, and found new expression through street art. 

She says the food provided by charities that support the homeless is often “slop” Cecilia’s cooking is the one meal each week that she will never miss. The food is fresh, nutritious and flavoursome but that’s not the main reason why Cecilia’s kitchen is the highlight of her week. 

“It’s food made with love, that’s the difference,” she says. 

“It’s the one day of the week that I can come and get fed and know I’m safe and I’m loved. She also gives you support and when you are down, she’ll give you a hug. It makes all the difference in the world.” 

Originally from Singapore, Cecilia migrated to Australia in 2002 and has lived in Brunswick for 11 years.  

She is currently preparing to open a Malaysian restaurant near the market in North Melbourne later this month.  

Despite her other commitments – which include supporting her daughter through Year 12 next year – Cecilia says she intends to continue providing meals to the homeless into the forseeable future. 

“They know me by my name now and I know every single one of them,” she says. 

“They will cry and tell me their stories so it would be very hard to stop. I will keep on going as long as I can.” 

BRUNSWICK West woman Phaik See “Cecilia” Chuah wasn’t seeking any recognition or rewards when she began serving home cooked meals to Melbourne’s homeless community 18 months ago. 

She just wanted to provide the homeless who gather around the Queen Victoria Market with a fresh, nutritious and tasty meal at least once a week. 

Now close to 200 people are fed by Cecilia, also known as “CC”, and a group of helpers every Tuesday night, and she has become confidante, counselor and friend to many of them. 

For her work, the 49-year-old mother of two has been nominated for the Victorian Local Hero category of the 2022 Australian of the Year awards. 

Should she win when the awards are announced next Wednesday, she will travel to Canberra for the Australian of the Year ceremony outside Parliament House on January 25. 

She has no idea by whom or how she was nominated, but says she feels humbled to be a finalist. 

“I’ve done a little bit of community work here and there and always put others before myself and want to do a little more to make people happy,” she says. “I’m not a rich person, I’m just doing a little bit when I can.” 

Cecilia serves up a meal to one of her regulars.

It all began on an autumn night last year when Cecilia was driving past the Queen Victoria Market delivering her home cooked Malaysian meals to clients. 

Noticing a group of homeless people sheltering under the awnings of the sheds on the edge of Melbourne’s CBD, she went home, cooked as much fried rice as she could pack into four spare containers, and returned to the market with the food. 

The next week, those four containers became 20. Word of mouth spread among Melbourne’s homeless community, and now dozens of people are already queueing up when Cecilia and a group of helpers arrive at dusk every Tuesday to dish up more than 150 meals. 

Cecilia admits she felt “out of my comfort zone” on that first night in May last year but no matter what the weather, she hasn’t missed a single Tuesday since.

Fortunately, she lives just within five kilometres of the market so was able to continue providing the meals throughout all of Melbourne’s lockdowns. 

She has no official backing and is not associated with any church or charitable organisation but simply acts out of the goodness of her heart.  

“It’s become like a big community and now they look forward to every Tuesday because it’s a very healthy hot meal cooked especially for them,” Cecilia says.  

“To see the smiles on their faces and have them asking for seconds makes me very happy.” 

The Asian influenced meals usually include noodles, spring rolls and dim sims, and fresh fruit donated by market vendors. On Melbourne Cup Day, a warm spring night brought out close to 200 people who were served a chicken curry in addition to the usual fare. 

Cecilia’s husband Chai Lim, 21-year-old son Shane, 17-year-old daughter Shanice, and a circle of friends help with the cooking and serving, including one woman who bakes cookies every week. 

At Christmas last year, they filled 150 backpacks with shampoo, chocolates and other treats. This year, Cecilia has written to the major supermarket chains asking for donations of cooler bags which they aim to fill with socks, underwear and other practical gifts. 

Top: Cecilia and her band of volunteer helpers. Above: Joe has been a regular since the very first night Cecilia began providing home cooked meals at the market.

The very first person Cecilia approached with a meal on that night in May last year was Joe, a middle-aged man in a wheelchair. He has since obtained accommodation through the NDIS away in another suburb but will catch the train into the city every Tuesday for dinner with CC, as much for the company as for the food. 

Another regular, “Painter”, was living rough for several years but credits Cecilia for major changes in her life over the past 12 months. She has stopped using drugs, obtained permanent accommodation, put an abusive relationship behind her, and found new expression through street art. 

She says the food provided by charities that support the homeless is often “slop” Cecilia’s cooking is the one meal each week that she will never miss. The food is fresh, nutritious and flavoursome but that’s not the main reason why Cecilia’s kitchen is the highlight of her week. 

“It’s food made with love, that’s the difference,” she says. 

“It’s the one day of the week that I can come and get fed and know I’m safe and I’m loved. She also gives you support and when you are down, she’ll give you a hug. It makes all the difference in the world.” 

Originally from Singapore, Cecilia migrated to Australia in 2002 and has lived in Brunswick for 11 years.  

She is currently preparing to open a Malaysian restaurant near the market in North Melbourne later this month.  

Despite her other commitments – which include supporting her daughter through Year 12 next year – Cecilia says she intends to continue providing meals to the homeless into the forseeable future. 

“They know me by my name now and I know every single one of them,” she says. 

“They will cry and tell me their stories so it would be very hard to stop. I will keep on going as long as I can.”