The programme currently feeds 12,000 people, but needs volunteers to distribute the food.
Project Director Justin Cheah holding up this day’s haul in provisions for Klang Valley families.
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Many of Kuala Lumpur’s homeless come from already poor backgrounds to begin with, according to non-governmental organisation Kechara Soup Kitchen. But they aim to stop that transition of poor to homeless by providing at-risk communities access to their food bank programme.
Project Director Justin Cheah says the Kechara Food Bank was set in place to provide food to urban poor families, so that the next generation has enough sustenance to get through school.
“Based on our data, 83.7% of the homeless community we’ve surveyed say they dropped out of school,” says Justin.
“And there were many challenges in their upbringing that really added up to their reason for never completing their studies.
“The chances to get out of poverty is not very high because the poorer you are, the less access you have to resources. So you get pushed lower and lower,” he adds.
The food bank currently deals with six to seven tonnes of surplus food monthly, supporting over 12,000 people nationwide.
Curbing urban poverty
The Kechara Food Bank programme started in 2012, following the soup kitchen’s attempt at identifying common root causes for how their regulars ended up homeless.
“We drove to the addresses they provided us of their old homes, and it would mostly be public housing areas,” Justin explains, which hinted at the effects of generational poverty.
It became more apparent following further surveying of over 8,000 respondents, whom Kechara approach during its soup kitchen activities over the past ten years.
“Many of them come from low income families with domestic problems and absentee parents. They eventually found themselves either mixing with the wrong people or not getting enough education to compete in the workforce,” Justin adds.
This was a gap that Kechara found worth expanding on to prevent a new generation from getting caught in the cycle, while the soup kitchen would continue to address the current homeless community.
A large part of the food bank’s distribution have been to families in public housing communities and squatters who have been relocated, prioritising single parents.
Justin explains that by providing ample food supplies and provisions, significant impact is made on the recipients not just in saving money, but also in terms of focus in self development.
“Something as simple as a steady supply of bread means that the children will have something to bring to eat during recess. Eliminating hunger from their school hours is already a big improvement to their lifestyle and education,” he says.
“We also provide financial counseling to the adults, so they can better manage their income especially now that they would be saving more.”
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The Kechara team has also been exploring skills training for the past two years, to introduce new forms of income to parents who can’t travel far to look for jobs. Among the skills taught are the making of bags and rugs out of upcycled material.
How you can get involved
The food bank strategically relies on hypermarkets and hotels to donate surplus foods, with Tesco being a major contributor.
Kechara Soup Kitchen currently has offices in KL, Penang, and Johor. However, deliveries are made out daily to homes in most of the states in the peninsular, namely Kelantan, Penang, Perak, Johor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Selangor and KL, with a base in Sarawak expected to be established soon.
At present, it takes 50 volunteers a day nationwide to distribute the donated food, which are collected directly from partnering hypermarkets, retailers and hotels.
The public is encouraged to contribute dry food provisions by dropping it off at collection centres like the one in Sogo Departmental Store in KL and partnering hypermarkets, however, Justin argues that the best thing an individual can do is volunteer in distributing the food to recipients.
“We receive large amounts of food from hypermarkets. That is a larger source of food waste that we could be saving from that an individual can tap into compared to their own fridge,” says Justin.
“If an individual would like to contribute, volunteering to distribute the food would be the most impactful way to pitch in.”