By David Seow
Every Saturday evening at 10.45pm, Susan Ho and a handful of volunteers convene at the entrance to the Urban Transformation Centre (UTC). Armed with boxes of packaged meals, water bottles and buns, they take to the streets to distribute food to the homeless around Ipoh. For the next few hours, the Pay It Forward Ipoh volunteers hand out as many as 50 meals to those who find shelter at bus stops, on park benches and beds made of cardboard.
Inspired by a viral video of a café that allowed customers to “pay it forward” and pay extra so that a future patron could claim a meal regardless of their financial situation, Susan realised that no such establishment existed in Ipoh.
“I just suddenly thought – my mum does food business; it’s not that difficult,” the 32-year-old recalls. “But the difficulty is that homeless people don’t really come and ask for food, especially at the stadium where my mum is selling. So I thought the best way is to go to them.”
Thus Pay It Forward Ipoh was born and has been actively making a difference in the community for the last four years. Benny Wong, who has been volunteering since February of this year says helping the homeless is his passion. “I wouldn’t say I’m a saint. I just do what I can. Every little bit helps,” he says with a smile.
While Pay It Forward Ipoh is not a registered organisation, it can be best described as a grassroots movement of like-minded people who want to make a difference. The non-government and non-faith-based collaboration relies on local sponsorship and donations from friends to feed the homeless.
Marcass Café in Taman Cherry sponsors every first week of the month, while the Chicken Rice Shop donates meals every fourth week. On the other Saturdays of the month, Susan turns to friends and friends of friends. “We don’t want to deal with direct cash,” she explains. “Because money is a sensitive thing, if anyone wants to sponsor we ask them to pay in advance to a café and we get the food from there.”
Not having the benefit of a registered charity does have its drawbacks. There are no full-time staff members to help out. There is no guarantee that there will be enough hands to distribute the food packets.
For a few years, Susan was based in Kuala Lumpur and, therefore, was unable to make it back every weekend, but the project continued nonetheless. “I give credit to the volunteers, who did a lot of work when I wasn’t around,” Susan says, “Especially, Ooi Kian Hoe, who has been with us for years.”
Now that Susan is back in Ipoh, she is into regular distributions and is determined to continue serving the ‘street friends’ of Ipoh for as long as possible. Getting enough volunteers to show up regularly is still a challenge, however. “It’d be great if we got sponsorship for the second, third, and fifth weeks of the month, but the real need is manpower,” she laments. “If manpower remains difficult, it may be a challenge to continue.”
Those that volunteer find it to be a rewarding experience. “After walking the streets for two hours giving food parcels out to the homeless, you get a good feeling knowing you’ve done something worthwhile,” states Lingli Tan, who has been volunteering for three months, “And the best bit is, you also get a great workout!”
If you would like to get involved or find out more, Susan is contactable through the Pay It Forward Ipoh Facebook page at www.facebook.com/payitforwardipoh/