When our grandparents or parents told us stories of how a bowl of noodles only cost them RM0.50, we found it hard to believe. The cost of living decades ago is a far cry from today’s prices. Even a school-going child would find it hard to buy anything with just RM0.50 at the canteen and for most of us, RM50 is barely enough for a trip to the supermarket for a pantry stock up.
Recently, RAM Rating Services Bhd (Ram Ratings) revised Malaysia’s full-year inflation forecast for 2022 to 3% from 2.5% earlier. The rating agency said the revision reflects recent adjustments in subsidies and price ceilings for key price-controlled food items as well as a stronger than expected cost pass-through to consumers this year.
Prices of essential goods such as flour, cooking oil, eggs and chicken – were among the items that surged in prices causing a domino effect on price hikes for cooked food items and ordered meals. While most Malaysians are generally affected by the price hikes, the repercussions are even more detrimental for those without deep pockets and the organisations helping them.
We reached out to some notable soup kitchens to get a better understanding of how they are dealing with the financial challenges and here’s what they have to say:
Highers Prices Triggers Tough Realities
Price hikes have resulted in countless charities and independent organisations making tough decisions to stay afloat.
As for Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK), the cost for meals served during their Soup Kitchen and Food Bank programme has increased. The team had to meticulously strategise and think of ways to optimise food purchases in order to not jeopardize the number of food packets distributed, the meal portions and the quality and nutrition of those meals.
A meal set at KSK used to cost RM8.50, but today, for the same amount, it cost RM10. Similarly, food packs (uncooked and non-perishable food items) cost RM100 previously, but now it is RM150.
The financial challenges only work to motivate the team at KSK to try harder because people depend on them to survive. Backed by a supportive community of sponsors and followers, KSK is amping up their fundraising efforts in an attempt to tide through the months ahead.
KSK constantly reaches out to individuals and sponsors to continuously support us. In addition to that, KSK has a variety of vibrant campaigns for the community to donate to. – Khong Jien Howe, Senior Executive Public Relations, Kechara Soup Kitchen
Another soup kitchen serving the homeless and needy in downtown Kuala Lumpur is Pit Stop Community Cafe, a social enterprise feeding the urban poor. They have been wary of the food prices ever since the pandemic hit and were not keen to increase sponsorship packages until the recent perpetual price hike.
It was not until recently that we had to raise our sponsorship costs by RM2 per meal pack. We anticipate that we may have to raise our sponsorship costs again in the near future, if and when the prices of food increase. We have also stepped up our food rescue, recovery and reengineering efforts, in efforts to manage the costs of food. – Joycelyn Lee, Co-founder of Pit Stop Community Cafe
When asked how they’re managing, we realised that not every charity receives steady support. Sponsors are also cutting back to maintain finances.
We have been speaking about the need for food security measures for some years now. And explaining that “food security” is not just about big policy-making decisions. It needs to be a societal effort. Contributions have also fallen over the last few years, as individuals and groups are hit with their own economic stresses, and donor fatigue sets in. – Joycelyn Lee, Co-founder of Pit Stop Community Cafe
Affecting More Than Just Food
The price hikes have also garnered unsolicited food budgeting and consumption advice to those who cannot afford – such as to eat less eggs. As a basic source of protein, eggs are a go-to ingredient to add nutrition to an otherwise simple meal.
However, food expenses are only part of the string of expenses borne by charities. Ti-Ratana Welfare Society, a charity providing shelter and education for the needy, reveals the complexities of the situation. Aside from ensuring that their 500 home residents are fed, other operating expenses are also mounting.
The prices of essential items are rising every day. Food items, especially vegetables, are getting more expensive. As we strive to provide nutritious and balanced meals to our residents, we find the situation very challenging. – Reverend Hemaloka Thero, manages Ti-Ratana Welfare Society’s homes
Ti-Ratana is home to infants, youths in their 20s, senior citizens and single mothers. During these trying financial times, 36 staff members had to take a pay cut and they had to think of ways to reduce electricity usage. The home also had to put in place a more stringent selection process when admitting new residents. As a result, they prioritise those that need medical attention and those who are really destitute with no one to care for them.
Ensuring The Hungry Are Fed
Soup kitchens and charity organisations have found ways to adapt and keep going despite the need to tighten their belts. For some, this means changing their usual menus and opting out of certain food products.
At the moment, we have no choice but to cut down on chicken and fish dishes to once every two days. – Reverend Hemaloka Thero, manages Ti-Ratana Welfare Society’s homes
Looking for innovative ways to ensure food security, the Ti-Ratana Welfare Society has already taken steps to cultivate the agricultural route.
To overcome vegetable dependency, we get the children to plant leafy greens in a small patch in our compound. We hope we can harvest our own produce and become more self-sufficient soon. – Reverend Hemaloka Thero, manages Ti-Ratana Welfare Society’s homes
Generosity In These Times Can Make The World Of A Difference
These struggles are just the tip of the iceberg of what charity organisations are experiencing as inflation, price hikes and financial challenges continue to loom. One thing is certain, these organisations are committed to staying on the course because lives depend on them.
During this time, the support and donations given to these organisations are of great significance because every ringgit given is stretched. However, it is not simply giving, but an investment into lives. Joycelyn from Pitstop Community Cafe challenges donors to expand their perception of giving with a long-term view of its returns.
The public has to understand that contributing to organisations working on social issues is not merely about “charity”, it is about investment in their communities and society, and investment is not about a one-off contribution. – Joycelyn Lee, Co-founder of Pit Stop Community Cafe
No donation is too small or insignificant, however, if we truly want to partner with an organisation to see long-term positive change, it is important that we seek to understand the issue at hand and commit to giving intentionally.No donation is too small or insignificant, however, if we truly want to partner with an organisation to see long-term positive change, it is important that we seek to understand the issue at hand and commit to giving intentionally.
We would like to ask that individuals and companies find the cause closest to their hearts and work with the organisations on a longer-term basis. This way, they will also understand better the challenges and stresses faced by the organisations that they support. – Joycelyn Lee, Co-founder of Pit Stop Community Cafe
Cash and in-kind donations aside, there are other ways of giving. Donating our time and expertise to these causes can help a great deal. With the nation moving at full steam after the pandemic, many of these organisations lack volunteers. KSK Senior Executive, Khong Jien Howe encourages everyone to give in their own way.
Despite the challenging times, reach out to your local registered NGOs to support them. Whether it’s donation or volunteering, your kind act will benefit the community in need. – Khong Jien Howe, Senior Executive Public Relations, Kechara Soup Kitchen
It is without a doubt that Malaysia is riding into a tough financial season, but the nation is only as strong as its weakest link. Everyone has a role to play in nation-building. Though we may be affected by the price hikes in one way or another, there is always someone whom we can reach out to and help. Let’s continue the #kitajagakita spirit and survive this together.
It may be a challenging year, nevertheless continue the good works. With kind Malaysians who donate and volunteer, they magnify and perpetuate good deeds. – Khong Jien Howe, Senior Executive Public Relations, Kechara Soup Kitchen