Sunflower Celebration raises $60K for Friends of Thai Daughters

See video footage at
Tue, 08/18/2015 - 4:00pm

Story Location:
86 Townsend Ave
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538
United States

Friends of Thai Daughters raised a grand total of $60,000 at the annual fundraiser held Aug. 12 in Boothbay Harbor, double their original goal.

The evening kicked off with a special VIP reception held at Alison Evans Ceramics on Townsend Avenue. There people could meet five of the girls who had been helped by Friends of Thai Daughters: Mee, Lek, Khai, Pui, and R(A). Mee, who was a part of the program when she was younger, is the current housemother at the Friends of Thai Daughters safe house in Thailand. Through the program she was able to attend and graduate from Chiang Mai University, a public university in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

After the reception, the group headed across the street to the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor for the live auction, with all the items being donated by individuals and local businesses. There was lots of food, which had been donated and prepared by Liz Evans, and wine and beer donated by Central Distributors and Carol and Pete Matwiczyk. There was also a special Thai drink called the “Sunflower Sunrise” created by Liz Evans and Chuck Koch. The recipe included mango, orange, lime, jalapeño, and tequila with a sprig of cilantro.

The auction started with standing room only; the opera house was full with every chair taken. Auctioneer and host Doug Gimbel kept the momentum flowing and people on their toes, occasionally tossing out auction items where the first bid made at a certain amount won it. He warned auction-goers that he was “ruthless for charity” and not to fan yourself with your paddle because he might count it as a bid.

Every time an item went over value, Julie Lamy, Global Program Director for FTD, rang a gong, and the winning bidder also received a free bottle of wine. As the night progressed, the gong rang on nearly every item.

Some items went for much more than face value, including a laser-cut wooden print of the Boothbay peninsula donated by Jeff Curtis of Sherman's Book and Stationary Store. Valued at $298, the bidding went up to $675 when Curtis stood up and said if each bidder bid $700 he would donated a second one — and they did.

Another item that got tons of attention (and a doubled donation) was a two-night stay at Topside Inn, valued at $500. The item sold for $750 with two winners.

The big ticket item of the day, a trip to Thailand, was valued at $22,000, and went for $16,000.

“It's important to be civic-minded on a global scale,” said Gimbel at the VIP reception before the auction. “I used to travel to Thailand a lot for work, selling royal jewelry. I love to help people, and I'm glad to do what I can to support the cause.”

Frank and Marty Helman also attended the VIP reception, and have been active with FTD. In January of this year, they traveled to Thailand to visit the new safe house. It was through the Helmans that FTD received a grant from the Otto and Fran Walter Foundation, which enabled the purchase of the new Sunflower House and Guest House in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The facility will provide additional housing space, which means FTD can help more girls in need. The new Sunflower House also has additional green space, which the girls are learning to care for, and with the Guest House next door allows the girls to learn about hosting.

“Frank and I have been involved with a lot of nonprofits, and what's remarkable about Friends of Thai Daughters, I think, is that the girls are so aware of what their lives would be like if FTD hadn't come along. They are so appreciate, they want to pay it forward ... it comes through in lots of ways, like Lek using her art as part of the fundraiser,” Marty Helman said. “They are all committed to the program, and not just for themselves.”

Mee, the housemother, invited anyone who wants to come and stay in the Guest House to do so. She spoke about the new life she, and other girls, have received and the support they have gotten. Others girl also spoke about the help they have received, including Lek, who graduated recently from Rajamangala University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Lek interned with Kim and Philippe Villard last summer at their studio in Boothbay Harbor. Lek donated several pieces of art towards the auction, and more are for sale at Alison Evans Ceramics.

“Well, if that doesn't pull at your heartstrings, then I feel bad for you,” Gimbel said.

Near the end of the night, the Boothbay Harbor Police Department showed up to stage an “arrest” of Chuck Koch, who is currently hosting the Thai daughters at his home. The auction then had to raise “bail money” for the handcuffed Koch. Happily the money was raised by many generous members of the audience and Koch was freed.

Friends from the Boothbay region, Jane McBride and Patty Zinkowski, are co-founders of FTD, and were blown away at the support.

“My personal feeling is one of profound gratitude at the outpouring of support of every kind, not just financial,” said McBride. “People opened their homes and hearts to our girls, giving their time, talent and energy to making the celebration and, by extension, our program, wildly successful.”

McBride also spoke about the daughters’ reactions to the event.

“The girls themselves are equally grateful and even a bit bewildered by such generosity. They are returning to Thailand with wonderful stories about how kind and caring their American friends and family are. The Boothbay community exemplifies what is good and great in this country, and I am so proud to be a part of it.”

Friends of Thai Daughters seeks to protect girls from Thailand who are in danger of being kidnapped and forced into human trafficking. According to, Thailand is “a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. It is a destination-side hub of exploitation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, for both sex and labor exploitation.”

The risk factors include statelessness, poverty, lack of education, awareness, lack of employment, and dysfunctional families.

Friends of Thai Daughters began in 2002, when McBride and Zinkowski took a trip together to Northern Thailand. There, they found a broken down school with 15 girls living there, doing their best to survive and attend school almost totally on their own.

Their stories resonated with the Boothbay women. Some had parents who were in jail, or had died, often because of the AIDS epidemic. Some girls came from large families that couldn't afford to feed and house them, so they had been sent away to survive on their own. One thing was common to all their stories: the girls were at risk, and could easily vanish into the world of human trafficking and never be heard from again.

With a determination to not let that happen, McBride and Zinkowski came back with a camera and created the documentary “Daughters and Sons: Preventing Child Trafficking in the Golden Triangle” to bring attention to the situation. They also decided to create the nonprofit organization, Friends of Thai Daughters, to create a safe house for girls to stay, and through which to bring them education, family, and a chance for a better life. Since then the organization has grown bigger, better, and helped dozens of girls complete their higher education and have hope for a better life.