KUALA LUMPUR: Seasoned volunteers are rebutting the claim that tourists were taking advantage of the food provided by soup kitchens at the city's tourist district.
"Yes, some might end up in soup kitchen lines unwittingly," said Zuhri Yuhyi, a volunteer with the Pertiwi Soup Kitchen for three years.
However, he said, such occasions were rare.
And when the tourists realised what the queue was for, some of them even happily volunteered, he revealed.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim on Monday claimed that tourists were sneaking into the food queues, thus defeating the purpose of soup kitchens.
"From my experience, tourists do not take advantage of soup kitchens," said Zuhri.
"Once in a blue moon, there would be a few who join in the queue to receive the food, thinking that it must be amazing food that we serve since the line can consist of at least 350 people at any one location.
"When that happens, volunteers will greet the tourists with a big smile and start a friendly conversation with them.
"Volunteers will also explain to them that this is a soup kitchen and its purpose is to serve the hungry poor," said Zuhri, who has been running Homeless Cafe, a soup kitchen in Jalan Hang Lekiu, for over a year now.
The tourists would then immediately apologise and withdraw from the queue.
However, many would be inspired by what the volunteers were doing and commend on their work. Some even ask to volunteer, and many of them do, he said.
Zuhri, who is with Mercy Mission, an NGO, heads its division Charity Right, which among others operates the Homeless Cafe in Anjung Singgah every Saturday. The effort is a collaboration with the National Welfare Foundation.
The foundation requires that recipients present their identity card before collecting their food at the soup kitchen, which also eliminates the possibility of feeding other than the locals.
Aizuddin Othman, who was a Pertiwi Soup Kitchen volunteer for two years, said he rarely came across tourists while manning the queues.
"If there were any queued up, I would just tell them that it was for the poor and the homeless, and the typical response is "Oh sorry, I did not know!" Because that was just it, they didn't realize what the queue was for.
"Some even turned around and said, "Oh in that case, I'll help you guys out. This is great!," he said in a Facebook posting.
Aizuddin who used to volunteer twice a week with the soup kitchen told Bernama that the queue would be manned by male volunteers, to prevent the same people from taking food twice.
He also refuted claims that soup kitchens encouraged homelessness and dependency among its recipients.
"I have seen a young man who, after taking food from us for some time, came up to us one day and happily announced that he has turned over a new leaf, became Muslim and volunteered at the mosque. His name is Adam.
"We were there during his first Ramadan and we were there during his first Eid.
"There was another humble man who always said "hi" to me and chatted with me while I was manning the queue. The same week he got a job, walked up to me with a big smile, joined me on the opposite side of the queue and helped me keep watch. His name is Jo, but we called him Papa Jo," Aizuddin recounted.
He said he was deeply touched by the events as it dawned on to him then that the soup kitchen was not just about the food, but people's lives. - Bernama