Malaysian businessman starts contactless food bank to help the poor

Chan (in green) with his teammates, (from left) Faris Faridudin, Kong and Kim, at the kEATchen Food Bank initiative. Photos: kEATchen Food Bank

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When Ivan Chan’s friend asked him for help about two months ago because he couldn’t afford to buy milk for his baby, it really struck Chan.

His friend lost his job during the first movement control order in March last year and has been without a job since. Despite being educated, he wasn’t able to get another job because he works in a niche industry. His wife has also just given birth.

After over a year of having no income, Chan’s friend didn’t have any money left to buy milk for his newborn and turned to Chan for help.

“This made me realise that it’s not just the B40 community who are suffering during the pandemic. Even those in the M40 category like my friend are impacted, ” says Chan.

On May 31, the 41-year-old businessman, who runs a cloud kitchen, started a food bank with a “no questions asked” policy at his business premises.

“We’ll give food to anyone who comes here to ask for it, ” he says.

But he is quick to add that they monitor each recipient’s MySejahtera check-in history to ensure that nobody abuses the system by collecting the food multiple times.

“We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to get the food.”

Chan then shared about the food bank on his personal social media and the post went viral.

Recipients observing SOPs while queueing to collect food from the food bank.Recipients observing SOPs while queueing to collect food from the food bank.

“There were so many people who came to collect the food that I realised it was going to be a more massive project than I anticipated because there are so many people facing difficulties during the pandemic, ” he says.

“In the first few days, there were about 300 people queueing right to the end of the street. Everyone was worried they wouldn’t get their food and I had to yell above the noise of the crowd to reassure them that there was enough for everyone.”

Chan then decided to rope in his business partners – Martin Kim, Kong Kok Weng and Faris Faridudin Mohmad – as his teammates to help with the food bank, and his personal initiative became a company project.

The kEATchen food bank is located at Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya and is surrounded by several low-income housing areas.

Contactless collection

Chan shares that the uniqueness of the food bank is that it is “contactless”.

The volunteers and recipients are separated by pigeonholes with dual openings and never have to deal with each other directly. Volunteers pack and place each food basket in a pigeonhole from inside the premises and recipients come to take it from the other side.

The pigeonholes where the food items are placed for collection.The pigeonholes where the food items are placed for collection.

All recipients have to go through the MySejahtera check, temperature scan and hand sanitisation before they are allowed into the lobby one at a time to take food from a pigeonhole.

Each food basket contains basic necessities – 1.5kg rice, 1.5kg potatoes, 1kg cooking oil, 1kg sugar, 350g salt and 15 eggs – which can feed a family of four for three days.

According to Chan, those are the basic items provided, but other foodstuff such as instant noodles, canned food and oats might also be included, depending on stock. They also provide milk for those with infants.

Besides food, face masks, baby diapers and sanitary pads are also given out.

The pigeonholes with dual openings enable contactless distribution of food items to the poor.The pigeonholes with dual openings enable contactless distribution of food items to the poor.

Chan reveals that the food bank supplies two to three tonnes of food daily – both collected directly by recipients and also distributed through several Members of Parliament, including Halimey Abu Bakar (Lembah Subang) and Ahmad Fahmi Mohamed Fadzil (Lembah Pantai), to the poor at other locations.

“Basically, I give them the resources and they distribute it, ” says Chan, adding that distribution takes place at the same time – between 3pm and 6pm – at all the locations.

“This is to prevent double-collection by the same recipient from several locations so that others have a chance to get the aid, ” he says.

While most food banks typically help B40s or specifically Malaysians, Chan says he doesn’t turn away anyone in need. Ninety percent of the recipients are B40s (including foreigners) while the remaining 10% are M40s, he says.

Although they funded the food bank out of their own pockets initially, Chan says they also started receiving donations from generous Malaysians who wanted to help. To date, they have received RM75, 000 through donations as well as sponsorship for items such as sanitary pads, milk powder and others.

Chan admits that running the food bank is no easy task, especially since he has a business to look after too.

“I’ve not had a day off since the beginning of this year when we began renovations of our premises, ” he says, adding that his business is new so there is much to do.

Facilities built for his cloud kitchen, such as the pigeonholes, facilitate the needs of the food bank, and since merchants are closed during the MCO, he is putting the pigeonholes to good use to help the needy.

Long-term plans

Happy smiles of gratitude from the food bank's young recipients.Happy smiles of gratitude from the food bank's young recipients.Despite the hard work, Chan says there are many touching moments which motivate him to continue on.

“Some recipients sent me photos of their kids with the food they received and their smiles were so bright. Even though it’s just simple stuff, they were so happy to receive it. It’s moments like these that keep me going, ” he enthuses.

Chan adds that he also received a heartwarming donation from an elderly man.

“This uncle said that while he still has enough money for food, he sees a lot of people who don’t, so he wanted to donate. It was the smallest donation I’d ever received – RM3 – but one of the most meaningful because despite being poor himself, he still wanted to help, ” says Chan.

“A two-year-old girl also donated her angpow money of RM150 to the food bank on her birthday. When her parents called, she said to me, ‘I hope all the kids like me will have money to buy good food to eat’, ” he shares.

Chan plans to get the food bank registered as a social enterprise when movement restrictions are lifted, and if things get any bigger, to set up an NGO so that they can help more people in need.

He strongly feels that Malaysians should step up to help the less fortunate, especially during difficult times amid the pandemic.

Chan also hopes to help those who come to the food bank find work.

“I’m looking to collaborate with an employment agency to help them find jobs, ” he says. “There are many recruitment portals in Malaysia but they cater mainly to the educated. Many jobless B40 Malaysians just don’t know how to use these portals because they are uneducated or IT-illiterate.

“So I hope to provide a way for them to find a job so that they can earn a living and support their families, ” he says.

“Instead of giving a man a fish and just feeding him for a day, why not teach him to fish so that he can eat for a lifetime?” he concludes, quoting Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s ancient proverb.

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