If you’re an urbanite living in Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya, you would be familiar with the household name, Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK), known for feeding the poor and the homeless. It all started in 2006 where a group of friends felt moved to feed the hungry on the streets of KL. They spent their Saturday nights preparing meals and distributing it to the homeless in Bukit Bintang.
The idea was not revolutionary or lofty, it was simple and sincere. Twenty packets of food to the homeless who would otherwise have to go another day without food. Most of us would have experienced a hunger pang, but for those homeless and without cash – those hunger pangs are prolonged, ignored or slept through.
This simple act of kindness caught on and word began to spread. More friends and even strangers wanted to help. The efforts began to pick up and more food packets were distributed as time went on. Currently, KSK has three main offices in Penang, Johor and Kuala Lumpur.
It’s Not Enough To Just Feed The Poor
Most feeding programmes stay as feeding programmes over the years. While it is a necessary effort and a short term solution for minimising hunger issues, it doesn’t provide a solution for helping the hungry escape from the poverty trap.
Over the years, KSK’s volunteers have tirelessly knocked on doors, distributed food and befriended the poor. They got first hand stories of how people became poor, what their families look like and what they needed, more than food packets. KSK’s resolve was to help get people off the streets and to help them get back on their two feet.
In 2012, they set up a food bank programme to distribute monthly dry provisions to poor families. They hope that the money these families would save from food costs can be channeled to more urgent matters such as education for their children. To date, this programme has been extended to ‘at-risk’ families to help minimise the risk of them falling into poverty.
More Than Food
In 2017, KSK’s profiling found that many of the poor did not have the necessary skills to hold a job. Many of them were single mothers, stay at home wives and those with homebound responsibilities. KSK once again saw an opportunity beyond food provisions. They started teaching these women various skills that could potentially earn them some income. Skills that are almost second-nature to women such as sewing and baking.
A Closer Look At the Homeless And The Poor
According to KSK’s 2011 findings, there are approximately 2000 homeless people living on the streets of Malaysia (inclusive of those in the smaller towns and outskirts). These numbers fluctuate daily as the homeless are known to move around. We know that hunger is still an issue in Malaysia.
KSK provided some insight into the 9000 people that are on their care list.
80% of them are living in poverty. Many of them experienced a bad upbringing which resulted in a high number of school dropouts. More than 50% of the youth in households do not attend secondary school. As a result of these compounded factors, they are unable to break out of the poverty cycle. They need a helping hand to pull them up.
Justin Cheah, Director of Operations, Kechara Soup Kitchen
There Is Hope
The need is never-ending, but KSK has had the fulfilment of seeing families transformed. Children going back to school and women earning income to feed their families. The results have taken years to reveal itself.
When they first took to the streets in 2006 they found more than 1300 hungry people on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. With many years of commitment, and a relentless task force pitching in to help, these numbers have now decreased to 500-600 people.
Meeting The Needs Of Those Impacted By The Pandemic
Not immune to the problems of the pandemic, KSK faced several challenges as a result of the restrictions that came with the Movement Control Order (MCO) and the momentary dip in sponsorships. The number of volunteers have also seen a decrease as people are more wary of going out.
Despite these setbacks, KSK has continued their food distribution program and innovated their distribution streams to ensure that their volunteers are safe while meeting the needs of the poor. Five hundred families in the Klang Valley have been recipients of KSK’s food bank on a monthly basis. Similar efforts are replicated in Penang and Johor as well.
Eliminating The Hunger Problem
While KSK started with simple and sincere efforts, they have grown in their vision to see hunger eliminated in Malaysia. Their ultimate aim is to set up a National Food Bank Network with a representative in every state in Malaysia, including East Malaysia. Their efforts towards empowering poor and ‘at risk’ families will continue as they truly believe in the old proverb,
“Don’t give a man a fish, but teach him how to fish”.
How can you help?
Kechara Soup Kitchen hopes that Malaysians will be more aware of the poor and hungry, especially those living in urban areas. They welcome more hands to help them in their efforts and resources are never turned down.
As we learned from the humble beginnings of KSK, making a difference doesn’t need to start as a mega idea, but it definitely has to start from the heart. It could be something as simple as having a few friends get together on a Saturday night cooking some food to feed the poor.
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