The sight of a young boy and a few young men looking for food in a rubbish bin as she was sitting in a restaurant eating her dinner moved Uma Pushpanathan to establish a programme to feed the hungry in Kuala Lumpur.
“I was having my dinner in a restaurant in town when I noticed this young boy and a few other young men scavenging for food in a garbage bin. It really troubled me. Malaysia is so rich with food and here were these young people who were so hungry. How could that be?” recalls Uma.
She decided to start a food programme for the homeless and urban poor through the Lions Club, of which she is a member. Feed The Needy (FTN) recently celebrated its 14th anniversary and Uma, the organising chairperson of the project, is happy to report that since its inception in 2004, the programme has continued to prepare meals for those in need.
FTN has become one of the signature projects of Lions Club of Bukit Kiara. Volunteers distribute 100 pre-packed vegetarian meals to anyone in need of a meal from Monday to Friday along Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.
Wong Ah Nau has been an FTN recipient for the past five years. In his 60s, Wong does odd jobs for eateries and shops in the city for a small salary which is barely enough to cover his rent.
“I lead a simple life and have no (health) problems, thus far. I enjoy the vegetarian meals very much and now call some of these people my friends,” he said, gesturing at a few of the other recipients.
Sam Kok Wah, also in his 60s, says that after collecting the food from the FTN, he makes it a point to spend time with the blind community in Brickfields as his way of paying it forward.
“I try and spend some time talking to them. I have a vegetarian meal a day and I’m contented with life. What is there to complain about?” he says with a smile.
When the FTN project started out, the food was contributed by Lions Club member Teoh Lee Kwon, who supplied the meals from his restaurant, Vogue Club. His staff helped distribute the food then and still do now, 14 years on.
Over the years, FTN has engaged other restaurants, including vegetarian eatery U Yen Restaurant to cater the meals, which usually consist of rice, a vegetable and vegetarian protein.
The programme has evolved since its inception and Uma and her team of volunteers help find employment for recipients who are looking for work. Mostly they have found jobs as waiters or kitchen staff in hotels or restaurants.
“I was attending an event at the Istana Hotel ballroom when a young waiter greeted me. He was one of our food recipients in the FTN project when he was younger,” shares Uma. Meeting former FTN recipients is always meaningful and heartwarming and Uma hopes the programme will continue to provide warm meals for those in need.
She hopes to work with hypermarkets, supermarkets, bakeries and hotels to salvage their unsold produce or food which would otherwise be destroyed or thrown away.
“We have tried reaching out to a few hypermarkets by sending them letters but have not heard back from anyone. We hope to get some feedback to find out how we can work together,” she says.
Fifteen Years Of Service
The Lions Club of Bukit Kiara is a non-governmental organisation that was chartered on May 8, 2003 by a group of volunteers. The objective of this club is to improve lives of the underprivileged.
Feed the Needy is the Lions Club of Bukit Kiara’s signature project. Another ongoing project by this club is “Gift of Sight”, through which eye screening is done for the poor and needy. CIMB Foundation has played a crucial role in helping hundreds of underprivileged whose sight is affected by cataracts.
The Lions Club of Bukit Kiara is also actively involved in youth programmes such as Youth Exchange, Youth Essential Skills (YES) Camp, Peace Poster Contest, community service projects for the elderly, children, sick, homeless, handicapped, visually impaired, mentally challenged and the underprivileged community.