Join in soup kitchens, NGOs tells 'misinformed' minister

KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 — Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) running soup kitchens in the capital want Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim to visit their joints before passing judgment on whether or not their cause is pointless.

To Sara Sukor, co-founder of Need to Feed the Need, the minister’s remark earlier today that soup kitchens in the city were feeding tourists and depriving the poor and homeless of food was simply “mind boggling”.

“The minister is misinformed. She can come and assess for herself... she will see a lot of poor people who just need that one meal a day,” Sara told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.

The activist said tourists had stopped to look at Need to Feed the Need’s stall, located beside Tune Hotel on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman every Thursday night.

She added that the tourists were only curious and denied any had lined up for the free food.

“Yes, they have asked us what we were doing after taking notice of the queues but when we explain that we are running a soup kitchen they say ‘good job’ and get on with it.

“I don’t know where she is getting this from,” Sara said, of Rohani’s remark at a news conference today.

The ministeri said tourists joined the queue at soup kitchens, mistaking  the free food handed to the homeless and the downtrodden at soup kitchens as a sign of Malaysian generosity and hospitality.

As such, the objective of the soup kitchen was not met, the minister said, adding that the NGOs should cooperate with the ministry at the institutions it set up instead of working independently.

Sara invited Rohani to turn  up there, minus her ministerial entourage.

People lining up for food at a soup kitchen in Kuala Lumpur, June 23, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May
People lining up for food at a soup kitchen in Kuala Lumpur, June 23, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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“We hand out milk formula and diapers as well, so there is a high concentration of mothers and children queueing up.

“It is heart wrenching to see some of them... I don’t know what’s up with the statements by the ministers lately,” Sara added.

Pertiwi soup kitchen founder and vice-president Munirah Hamid also urged the minister to visit its establishment to learn how to discern “the homeless, the hardcore poor and beggars”.

“What on earth is she talking about? We know who we are feeding... she refuses to listen and I’m exasperated,” Munirah told The Malay Mail Online.

Like Sara, Munirah said no tourist had ever queued for free food at Pertiwi’s soup kitchen, which operate four times a week.

“Come down, look with your eyes and see with your heart and you will see the needs of these people,” said Munirah.

Several soup kitchen operators, including Pertiwi, will be meeting Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor tomorrow morning.

Tengku Adnan had last week announced that soup kitchens would be barred from operating within 2km of the city’s Golden Triangle shopping and commercial centre, claiming the pop-up stalls were dirty, attracted vermin that spread diseases like Leptospirosis, and dengue.

The ministry has since sought to contain the public relations damage by saying it is merely setting up a “one-stop centre” to combat vagrancy.

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