With blanket ban on relief NGOs, soup kitchen Pit Stop serves last meal to the homeless

Kenneth Tee
Pit Stop Community Cafe staff observe social distancing guidelines as they serve the homeless one final time in Kuala Lumpur March 30, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 — With the government’s blanket ban on NGOs and civil societies distributing aid to the needy during the expanded movement control order (MCO) period now in effect, many of the soup kitchens have now begun to halt their operations.

Yesterday, one such venue, the Pit Stop Community Cafe, served the homeless and street communities for one last time as it abides by the government’s directive that was announced last Saturday.

When Malay Mail visited in the afternoon, a crowd of about 20 people had begun to swell near the cafe nestled off Jalan Tun HS Lee as early as 4.30pm.

By 5pm, the crowd gained in numbers and were seen queuing a metre apart as stipulated by the social distancing measures, while they waited patiently for the cafe’s shutters to open at 5.30pm.

Included in yesterday’s special aid were a packet of chicken rice, beverages from bubble tea chain Tealive, a bottle of mineral water, buns, biscuits, hard-boiled egg, banana, and an orange.

People were allowed to collect their pre-packaged food laid on a counter two at a time, as part of strict social distancing and safety measures in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.

An hour later by 6.30pm, the pre-packaged food — 225 packs in total — prepared for distribution were handed out.

While many of those who collected the packs seemed oblivious to the impending closure of the soup kitchen from April 1 onwards until the conclusion of the MCO period, most were seen to be very content with the generosity of food served.

Civil societies willing work together with Putrajaya

On Saturday, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said NGOs helping to feed the poor and homeless during the MCO have been advised to stop delivering food directly to the needy.

Pit Stop Community Cafe co-founder Joycelyn Lee speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Kuala Lumpur March 30, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Instead, they’ve been advised to send the food to one collection point managed by the Welfare Department (JKM) and the food will then be disbursed by the People's Volunteer Corps (RELA) and the army.

When met by Malay Mail, Pit Stop co-founder Joycelyn Lee expressed concerns about JKM’s standard operating procedures (SOP) in getting in touch with the marginalised community.

“Not all of those who came to get food are homeless. Some have lost their jobs, daily wages, we have a lot of old people, a lot of people out of work because of Covid-19, all of them rely on us to get their meals. They are not homeless, they are out of work and have no money.

“We have no idea how JKM will reach them, that's why we continue doing what we do,” she said.

Soup kitchens arguably play a crucial role in providing sustenance to the less fortunate, serving as a lifeline for the homeless and urban poor who would otherwise starve.

Therefore, soup kitchens play a vital role as well during the Covid-19 crisis in assisting underprivileged communities not only with meals but as a source of information and awareness.

For this reason, Joycelyn therefore said she wants to work in tandem with the government and is willing to have JKM’s personnel deployed in her soup kitchen to facilitate the food distribution.

But she admitted that no clear guidelines have been presented by the authorities.

“Since the MCO came out, we are pretty much in the dark. In compliance with the ministry’s directive, we will close. I hope JKM could take care of our street clients like we take care of them.

“Here's the thing, there's going to be a lot of hungry people out there.

“We want the government to work with us. We are waiting to work with the government. We do not want to undermine them.

“We have the contacts, relationships and trusts built. It is not about us but about taking care of fellow human beings to make sure everybody is safe,” she said.

The homeless adhere to social distancing guidelines while queuing to collect food at the Pit Stop Community Cafe in Kuala Lumpur 30, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health also advised relief NGOs to follow the rules and regulations set by the government during the MCO to lessen their risk of Covid-19 infection.

Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah conceded that the groups have good intention by providing aid towards marginalised communities, and called for better relationship between them and the government to achieve a common goal.

This comes as last week, 127 NGOs and charities jointly pleaded with Putrajaya to let them continue working in a safe manner and suggested that the government was underestimating the effort needed to take over their aid distribution.

They acknowledged the authorities’ desire to limit the risk of spreading Covid-19, but stressed that vulnerable groups in the country were at extreme risk because of the movement control order.

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