Part of the weekend routine for retiree Koppalai Kirnan Palaniappan, 63, and his wife Manjula Gurunathan, 51, is to swing by their neighbourhood grocery store to pick up dry food items including rice, sardine, eggs, wheat flour and sugar.
However, the couple isn’t buying items to feed their family of five. Instead, Koppalai has been distributing these foodstuff to 14 underprivileged families in Sungai Buloh, Shah Alam and Klang in Selangor every month for over a decade.
But since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Koppalai has been packing additional items into the families’ food boxes. He is well aware many of these families are struggling to put food on the table due to movement restrictions.
“Many of the breadwinners of these 14 families are daily wage labourers, gardeners and grass cutters. A large number of them lost their jobs during the pandemic and do not have enough money to feed their family. I feel sorry for them and want to do my part to help,” explained Koppalai during a phone interview from Shah Alam recently.
A former manager at an electronics company in Petaling Jaya, Koppalai has made charity work his full-time job after his retirement in 2008.
“I had a fair bit of free time after my retirement. Initially, charity work might seem daunting but once you get the hang of things, it becomes a way of life,” shared Koppalai.
For the past 16 months, he has been busy feeding the needy, catering to the urban poor in many areas across the Klang Valley.
A month ago, he also provided meals to an orphanage in Shah Alam where a number of its residents were Covid-19 positive.
Recently, he gave out 200 packs of food in Shah Alam, mainly to families from the B40 income group affected by the pandemic.
Funds used in his charity work are collected from close friends and well-wishers from as far as Australia, the United States and Qatar.
There’s a sense of pride and satisfaction in Koppalai’s voice when he talks about charity work. The best thing about volunteer work, he said, is how he has made more friends, learned new skills, and built a more positive outlook on life.
“Doing a good deed doesn’t need to cost a lot. Even the smallest acts of kindness can go a long way to help those in need.
“My friends and I help in any way possible. We’ve changed roofs, reconstructed a damaged house and also refurbished a community centre in Kampung Sri Aman in Sungai Buloh. I always feel a sense of happiness and satisfaction whenever I am involved in volunteer work,” he said.
Koppalai isn’t a stranger to doing good. His father, Palaniappan Nateson Chettiar, taught him the importance of reaching out to communities struggling to make ends meet.
So as a young boy, Koppalai – who grew up in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur – fed the poor, volunteered in temple activities and taught many children living in the estates.
“My siblings and I were taught that no deed is ever too small to help communities in need,” said Koppalai, who has three sons.
After his retirement, Koppalai used part of his retirement funds to reach out to needy students from plantations in Klang, Carey Island and Morib. As word got out, his friends started to chip in funds to buy uniforms, shoes and workbooks for these children.
“I decided to focus on students from the plantations because many of them come from low-income families and most of them have so little disposable income that they can’t afford any books or new school uniforms for their children.”
Before the pandemic, Koppalai also worked with many volunteers and organised UPSR workshops, tuition classes and skill training workshops for these students.
“Most often, many students drop out of school to help their parents financially. They end up working as labourers in the plantation sector. Over time, the cycle of poverty continues into the next generation and the only way out of this vicious cycle is through education,” he emphasised.
Over the years, Koppalai has collaborated with many other charitable groups, including Rotary Club, Spoonful of Hope and Volunteers Unite in various philanthropic deeds, including volunteering at food banks, medical camps and old folks’ homes.
His volunteer work is never-ending but the sexagenarian does it all with a big smile.
“It’s my dream to reach out to as many students and families in need as possible. I hope to help and guide them and their children towards a better future.
“I always believe in the adage, ‘What goes around, comes around’. A little help to the needy means the world to them. These individuals’ appreciation and blessings keep me moving forward to help more needy families,” he said in ending.