Urban poor make up majority at soup kitchens, NGOs say

While soup kitchens target homeless people, they do not turn away the urban poor who turn to them for meals. — Picture by Choo Choy May
While soup kitchens target homeless people, they do not turn away the urban poor who turn to them for meals. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — The rising costs of living in the Klang Valley have forced thousands of urban poor to turn to soup kitchens for food and other daily essentials. 

Many inner city non-profit organisation (NGO) say almost 70 per cent of their patrons comprise of the city’s poor, including single mothers who are having difficulty making ends meet. 

Non-governmental organisation Feed the Needy co-founder Daniaal Rauf said while the group targets homeless people, they do not turn away the urban poor who turn to them for meals.

“The majority of people think those who queue up for food at soup kitchens are homeless and people are surprised when we tell them the majority are in fact low-income earners living in the city. 

“There are still a large number of those living in the city who are unable to buy groceries or cook for themselves as they do not have a stove at home. The poor turn to us on a regular basis as we provide a solution to their problem.” 

Daniaal said charity organisations do more than just provide meals for the needy, they also provide baby formula milk powder, diapers, baby food and clothing.

“Experience has thought us that these people find it difficult to pay their rent and there are groups who channel funds collected from the public to help ease their burden.

He said there are parents who cannot afford to send their children to school and several NGOs have stepped up to offer reading and arts and craft classes for the young ones. 

“Some also get better job opportunities as there are representatives from companies and SMEs who have offered jobs to the poor,” he said. 

Muslim Women’s Action Organisation (Pertiwi) soup kitchen founder Munirah Hamid said many poor families in the city turn to soup kitchens for aid. 

She said most of the city’s poor are those who migrate from small villages hoping to secure better employment opportunities but they end up with low-paying jobs as they lack the required skills and experience.

“Even if they were hired, the bargaining power is largely left to the employer and they can decide to pay less than the market value,’’ she added.

She said the urban poor work hard but sadly, they are not able to make ends meet as they have children to care for. 

“Malaysians need to understand these families do not have reliable access to food due to their low income. They pay high rent and are vulnerable to sickness and this is why they have been turning to us for assistance.

“It is bad enough that they can barely afford a roof over their heads but some of their homes do not have proper plumbing or kitchens. These families often cramp themselves in small cubicles or makeshift dormitories in shoplots and do not have space to put in any cleaning or cooking utensils. 

Dapur Jalanan, another NGO which offers free food for the city’s poor, said the government’s poverty line index needs to be reviewed as many of the poor who seek help at soup kitchens in the city are not eligible for welfare assistance. 

Its coordinator Hadi Khalil said: “On average, our poverty line is set at RM900 for the peninsular and RM1,000 for east Malaysia. This figure, however, is irrelevant as the government does not take into account the rising costs of living. 

“It is also hard for urban poor families to ask for aid if they make more than the set limit. Even if they make just RM10 more, they are considered ineligible for aid. 

“We need to review how we calculate the poverty line to provide help to those who sorely need it,’’ he added. 

Kechara soup kitchen project director Justin Cheah said lack of access to education also affects urban poor communities.

“Financial insecurities have led to families not being able to send their kids to school. These could lead children to go through the vicious cycles that their parents go through.

“A collective effort is needed to not only provide them with essential food but also enable them to get better medical services and have better access to education which will eventually lead them out of their current state,’’ he said. 

Social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said he was aware a growing number of the city’s poor are turning to soup kitchens for meals and daily essentials.

“Although the country has a national poverty data bank to provide aid to the poor, it would not reach its potential in helping the destitute if those involved in helping them do not have a sense of civic duty.

“Civil servants, elected representatives, MPs and those involved in eradicating poverty must practise a great sense of sincerity and honesty in helping impoverished families to fight out of their situation,” he said.

He said agencies must go to the ground to provide solutions for the poor.

“It is a matter of bringing the service to their doorstep and providing clear answers on how we can help them. It would not be fair for us to expect them to come to government agencies on their own volition and register themselves. 

“Some of them cannot even afford a proper meal, how can they afford to go anywhere in the city?’’

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