By A. Jeyaraj
For those who may not know, a soup kitchen is an establishment which offers free meals to the urban poor and homeless in the community. Soup kitchens can be found all over the world and many also offer a variety of other support services to their patrons. Visitors to a soup kitchen do not need to meet any eligibility requirements, with meals being offered to all without question. Even regular office workers and businessmen are welcomed, to remove the stigma from the poor and give them dignity. A quick survey by Ipoh Echo recently unearthed a plethora of soup kitchens serving the needy.
Serving the Needy in True Spirit of 1Malaysia
Typically, a soup kitchen is run and staffed by volunteers who cook the food, serve it and clean up. Many soup kitchens welcome volunteers and donations. They also work with organisations which offer medical care, psychological counselling and other services to the poor and homeless.
In Ipoh the first soup kitchen was opened about eight years ago and now there are a number of them.
Lighthouse Hope Society Soup Kitchen
Lighthouse Hope Society, an NGO that runs its soup kitchen at 4 Jalan Koo Chong Kong in Old Town, has been operating for five years. The centre offers dinner from 5.30pm to 7pm on Mondays and Thursdays and high tea from 3pm to 5pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Richard Lee, who is in charge of the soup kitchen, said that this was a project started by the Canning Garden Methodist Church in 2006. This is the first soup kitchen in Ipoh. Initially pre-packed food was distributed from the back of a van at the former Super Kinta supermarket (current site of UTC Perak). However, due to the large number of people, from 2008 food is served from the current location.
Dinner is served to about 100 people and consists of rice, meat, vegetable and a drink. High tea is served to about 80 people and consists of noodles and fried rice. Food is served to whoever comes. A register is kept on the personal particulars of those who eat here. In addition to providing food, the centre has facilities for free shower, haircut and a medical clinic. Second-hand clothes are available.
Dr S.S. Gill, President of the Society, said that recently they organised the Concert of Hope by Belles and Beaus to raise funds and collected RM120,000.
For further information call Lee at 012 505 7048.
OLOL Soup Kitchen
Our Lady of Lourdes Church (OLOL) Soup Kitchen is run by the church and held at the First Garden playground near the low-cost flats every Wednesday and Thursday from 1pm to 2pm. It began in March 2009 and was initiated by Sisters from the Franciscan Missionaries of Divine Motherhood (FMDM), parishioners from Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church, Ipoh and those from the Parish Integral Human Development ministry of OLOL.
Edwin Gomez, one of the volunteers said they serve free food to the poor, comprising rice, a meat dish and vegetable with a cup of water or syrup. Edwin said there is a crowd of about 80 people daily and they serve anyone who comes. There are even people who come in cars. A team of volunteers take turns to help run the soup kitchen. The meals are sponsored by the OLOL parishioners and well-wishers. The volunteers talk to the people and try to find suitable jobs for them.
For further information call 05 527 9349.
ANNING Soup Kitchen
ANNING Soup Kitchen was set up about a year ago and provides free lunch seven days a week and is located at 16A, Jalan Masjid in New Town. It is run by the Bao Eu Shi Temple and was initiated by its chief monk Ven Gong Zhang.
Free lunch is served from 11am to 2pm daily and caters for those above 60 years who are poor. They also serve food for the disabled and those who are unmarried. Food is served to about 80 people daily and in addition more than 80 food packets are delivered to the Chinese Temple Ipoh (behind TM), First Garden Flats, Silibin Flats and Buntong Flats.
Ho You Meng, advisor to the temple, said that funding is from devotees and well-wishers. Farmers from Cameron Highlands donate vegetables in bulk. Volunteers help to cook and serve the food. There is a register of names of all those who come to eat and registration cards are issued. A daily register is kept on those who come to eat.
For further information call 05 311 1223.
Shirdi Sai Baba Centre Meal Service
The Shirdi Sai Baba Society’s centre at 22 Jalan Sultan Iskandar provides free meals to about 200 devotees and visitors daily. On Thursdays the number is double. The centre is providing annadhanam or offering of free food which is an ancient Hindu practice.
The centre’s caretaker Priya Arumugam said they provide vegetarian breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week to anyone who walks in and is sober and properly dressed. There is a donation box and those who can afford can make a donation. A notice board is placed in the hall to indicate the items urgently required.
Breakfast consists of typical Indian food, lunch consists of rice, two vegetables and dhal curry and dinner is normally noodles; devotees also bring homemade cookies. Food is served after poosai or prayer. The centre employs full-time cooks to prepare the food. Individuals can also sponsor meals by paying RM300, to perform ubayam or prayer in their name to celebrate wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other auspicious occasions.
The scheme was started by S.P. Kannan, chairman of the society, about four years ago. This is a self-supporting scheme funded by devotees and well-wishers.
For further information call 05 242 1821.
Masjid Paloh Soup Kitchen
Masjid Paloh in Jalan Dato distributes pre-packed food to about 100 needy people on Wednesdays and Fridays after Asr prayers at about 5pm. Hj Ahmad, Secretary of the mosque said that food has been provided for the past six years. It is for anybody who comes and there is no discrimination on race or religion. Normally rice with chicken or noodles are provided. Food is provided by anonymous donors.
For further details call Hj. Ahmad 05 311 3759.
Indian Muslim Mosque Soup Kitchen
A number of sponsors and well-wishers distribute about 100 food packets every Friday before prayers to the needy at the premises of the Indian Muslim Mosque opposite Ipoh Padang. Yussof, the mosque secretary, said that this is being practised for many years and the mosque is not involved. Food packets consisting of rice, chicken and vegetables are given to anyone who comes and is not restricted to those who come to pray.
During Puasa month, the mosque serves breakfast before start of fasting and buka puasa dinner is provided. Also during six months in a year, dinner is provided for about 300 people for 12 days after Isyak prayers. Food is provided to anyone who comes.
For further information call Yussof 017 584 9243.
Gerai Makanan Dan Minuman Rahmath Soup Kitchen
Rahmath Food Stall in Jalan Sagor (behind Perak State Mosque) has been serving free chicken rice to about 30 people every Friday after prayers for more than 20 years.
Ridzuan, staff of the restaurant, said that the proprietor, popularly known as Nasi Ayam Ali, initiated the scheme. The packed food is given to anyone who comes. The restaurant also gives free lunch to two or three needy persons daily. Ridzuan informed that once in a while they get sponsors who ask them to deliver the food on their behalf.
For further information call Ridzuan 016 557 3100.
Are soup kitchens a solution for the urban poor?
I have visited each of the soup kitchens more than once and mostly the same group of people patronise the soup kitchens and are like one big happy family and know where free meals are available. One of the guys said that free food is available every day of the week and he knows where to get it.
On speaking to the volunteers some have the view that while the objective of soup kitchens is to help the needy, the downside is that they tend to make people lazy and even those who are able to work and can get jobs are not willing to work since they can get their meals and other necessities for free.
Some people are coming without the knowledge of their families and are reluctant to talk about themselves and also refuse to have photos taken. Perhaps the Welfare Department and relevant NGOs could talk to these people and try to come up with what is best for them. Those who are physically fit could be given employment or trained to do some handicraft so as not to live on handouts.
Though the soup kitchens are run by Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu groups, they all serve the needy regardless of their race, religion or background. This is praiseworthy in itself and a shining example of where the 1Malaysia concept is truly practised.