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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

People & Places: Buckhunger fundraiser to benefit needy in Cambodia

By DANNA SUE WALKER World Staff Writer

From Tulsa to Cambodia with love might be the motto for a fundraiser that Garden Deva will host from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday at its shop at 317 S. Trenton.

Ren Barger (left), Marilyn McCulloch, Blake Biery and Joe Nurre will join a fundraiser Saturday for Buckhunger at Garden Deva. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World

People & Places: Buckhunger fundraiser to benefit needy in Cambodia
Former Tulsa restaurateur John Phillips, who has lived in Cambodia for more than three years, opened the door to Buckhunger in December 2011 and provides free, hot and nutritious meals each day to more than 200 street children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Garden Deva's outdoor artwork will be draped with Cambodian flags to promote the work of Buckhunger.

"It saddened me beyond belief to see these kids sifting through garbage for something to eat," Phillips said from Buckhunger's storefront location. "We began by providing complete food service training - including a small monthly salary - to 22 unemployed and unskilled youths who now do all the food preparation, cooking, serving and cleaning."

Phillips has financed all of Buckhunger's activities to date, but with little success in generating a steady flow of contributions, the soup kitchen's future is in peril.

"We cannot allow that to happen," said Garden Deva's Lisa Regan. "When I learned about what Johnny created, I was moved to do whatever I can to help him continue his work."

The afternoon's activities will feature food and wine provided by the Garden Deva and local chefs - Aaron Snoddy of the Chalkboard, Sam Bracken of the Canebrake Resort and Tim Inman of Stonehorse in Utica Square - and music provided by local musicians Susan Herndon, Dianna Burrup, Marilyn McCulloch and Jay Lesikar.

Herndon, Burrup and McCullouch sing and write their own material, and Lesikar is an up-and-coming pianist on the Tulsa music scene.

The event will also feature auction items, including gorgeous hand-woven silk scarves flown to Tulsa from one of Phnom Penh's local markets expressly for this event.

Event organizers will be showing photographs of Buckhunger, as well as street scenes and historical images of Cambodia, a tiny country of 14 million people bordering Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.

"Cambodia is still struggling to overcome the devastating effects of the Pol Pot genocide of 40 years ago," Phillips said. "It's a country where 80 percent of the population are farmers living on less than $2 a day."

Poverty is widespread throughout Cambodia, and thousands of children are left to fend for themselves. At Buckhunger, diners are first led to a hand-washing station to promote good hygiene and then are seated at one of the facility's stainless-steel tables, where the staff of 22 provides each with a hot meal and a glass of chilled jasmine tea. For many, it is their only meal of the day.

All proceeds from the sale of items during the fundraiser will go directly to Buckhunger, and all donations are 100 percent tax deductible. In addition, Garden Deva has generously offered to donate 10 percent of sales from the afternoon to Buckhunger.

"It costs about $25 to feed two children for one month," Phillips said, "but we desperately need a steady stream of donations to continue our work."

Buckhunger's objective is twofold: to feed Cambodia's hungry children and elderly while providing training in food service for unemployed Cambodian youth.

Buckhunger's certified food-service training program for unemployed, unskilled Cambodians teaches them food handling, preparation, sanitation and commercial food practices. All students receive daily English lessons from a certified English teacher, a uniform and study materials. Many also receive full room and board.

The private, nonprofit organization exists entirely on donations. For more information, visit

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