New norms of feeding the needy in a time of pandemic

The Pertiwi team passing out boxes of food to the needy through the side of the restaurant. (Pertiwi soup kitchen Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: When the movement control order (MCO) was first announced by the Perikatan Nasional government in March, many Malaysians concerned about their own well-being stormed supermarkets and stockpiled food items.

Some others, however, who were consumed with a greater concern for the more marginalised parts of society, came together to provide supplies for families and individuals left worse off by the lockdown.

Among them was 28-year-old Bhairava, who was part of the Food Aid Programme organised by Dapur Jalanan, Liga Rakyat Demokratik, Refuge for the Refugees and Tenaganita, which aimed to help those who were out of jobs due to the MCO as well as migrants and refugees.

“We realised that a lot of people would be going hungry, especially since we didn’t know how long the MCO would last and when they would get their source of income again. So some of these organisations got together to raise funds and prepare rations to be passed to those in need,” he said.

He told FMT that this initiative was particularly targeted for non-Malaysians as there were many other initiatives already in place targeting Malaysians.

“We targeted those without proper documents, migrant workers without permits, people who had been retrenched and B40s in the urban areas as well as refugees.”

One particularly memorable occasion during the pandemic, he recounted, was when making a delivery to a family in Tanjung Karang, Selangor, on Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

With the Muslim volunteers asked to take the day off, Bhairava answered a call to deliver just two packs of supplies, containing basic items like rice, garlic and cooking oil, to the family in Tanjung Karang.

Recipients are required to wear masks and sanitise their hands before they are passed their food and drink. (Pertiwi soup kitchen Facebook pic)

“It was a two-hour drive from KL and I had to go through small roads. It was very different from other assignments where I would drop off 30 packs somewhere nearby like Pudu. But when I arrived, the family was very surprised that we were still doing deliveries even on Raya.

“The items might have been simple, but to them, it made a lot of difference for what they would be able to consume for the following weeks. That really put things into perspective,” he said.

He said the strict overwatch provided by enforcement authorities when he volunteered at the Dapur Jalanan food kitchen in Kuala Lumpur ensured that volunteers and recipients constantly adhered to the SOPs.

This also allayed any fear of spreading the virus to aid recipients or even loved ones back home.

Nonetheless, he viewed sadly the lack of physical interaction with recipients at the food kitchen, saying this was probably the one time in a week where they could have exchanges with each other.

For Munirah Abdul Hamid, the founder of Pertiwi soup kitchen, the work has to go on to ensure that hungry mouths are fed and the less fortunate can survive another day.

While the new norms have led to less interaction with the needy, she said her team have learned to “just deal with it”, adding that they have modified their procedure of giving out food even before the MCO hit.

They now serve boxes of food from the side entrance of restaurants – akin to a drive-through of sorts.

Munirah, 70, said Pertiwi also advises recipients to comply with SOPs as they wait in line.

“We make sure they wear a mask and keep social distancing, sometimes we have to scream to tell them to do that,” she said with a chuckle.

“If we see them wearing dirty masks, we will give them a new one. Then we help them sanitise their hands before passing on the food.

“We try to do our part in complying with the new norms. At the same time, we try to feed them. We don’t want them to go hungry, feel neglected or lose hope. But in the course of doing so, we have to apply the new norms,” she told FMT.

The soup kitchen no longer takes on as many volunteers as it used to. A team of six, including Munirah herself, will facilitate the whole process, partly to comply with the SOPs.

While compliance among aid-recipients has been satisfactory, she nevertheless has experienced many incidents of younger people rushing into elevators that were already full or staying close behind her on escalators, in full breach of SOPs.

Munirah urged Malaysians not to be complacent about the new norms in this time of pandemic, particularly with the recent rise in cases.

Her age makes her a high-risk individual while serving on the frontlines to feed the poor. She understands the importance of practising the new norms to keep the virus at bay.

“Let’s all be responsible. You young ones are healthy. Chances are you won’t get it bad, but you could be asymptomatic. So, be responsible. Think of the others around you wherever you are. Maintain your distance, wear a mask, sanitise your hands regularly – follow these norms,” she said.

For more information on embracing the new norms during this pandemic, please click here.