Urgent need to regulate food aid


Food and drink packets lying unopened after a food distribution progamme in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur. — Photos: CHAN TAK KONG and YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

FOOD aid is essential, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.

But it is equally important to ensure that what is given matches the needs of those requiring the food so that nothing ends up in the bin needlessly.

It is also imperative that food is distributed to everyone who needs it and not focused solely on one area.

With more people losing their jobs and seeking help through public donations or the government via the Welfare Department, there is an urgent need to have a system in place that prevents wastage.

People queueing up to get food from Kedai Makan Sahabat near Chow Kit. Each recipient is allowed to take only one portion to reduce food wastage.People queueing up to get food from Kedai Makan Sahabat near Chow Kit. Each recipient is allowed to take only one portion to reduce food wastage.

With queues outside soup kitchens and food basket distribution points getting longer, and more white flags being hoisted by households, it is vital that non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private organisations and Good Samaritans need to get the logistics right.

The number of NGOs, individuals, restaurants, traders and private companies donating food and groceries to the needy is increasing daily.

In some areas in Kuala Lumpur, there is oversupply, resulting in food being thrown away.

Traditional food distribution zones of Masjid Jamek and Lorong Chow Kit are seeing more food wastage.

Ab Wahab says a commission can establish a database of NGOs for more coordination.Ab Wahab says a commission can establish a database of NGOs for more coordination.

Unopened and untouched food packets are ending up in rubbish bins daily and yet, people are still donating food at these spots.

A Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) officer in charge of some of these zones said food distribution initiatives were increasing daily.

“They say they want to distribute food, but they never stick around long enough to see how many are actually eating.

“From my personal observation, I know that the homeless prefer fresh and warm food,” said the officer who declined to be named.

He added that with more people selling food under the Federal Territories Free Trading initiative, unsold food also ended up at the distribution centres and later in rubbish bins.

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Volunteers working with NGOs and registered soup kitchens say leftover food donated by traders was not suitable.

“Some of the food is too spicy or cooked with coconut milk which turns bad quickly.

“They are also not suitable for some as many senior citizens cannot chew well or digest spicy food,’’ said a soup kitchen volunteer who wished to remain anonymous.

Social welfare commission

Food Bank Foundation Malaysia chief executive officer Ab Wahab Long said food wastage was happening nationwide, not only in Kuala Lumpur.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have proper rules and regulations on food banks and the like,” he said.

He suggested that Family and Community Development Ministry should set up a social welfare commission to regulate NGOs doing charity work.

“This way, we can have a database of NGOs doing welfare work.

“Right now, anybody can apply to the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to establish an organisation and say it is for welfare.

“We have no proper database of these individuals and organisations,’’ he added.

Ab Wahab said although their intentions were good, a proper system should be put in place to ensure people received the help they needed.

He highlighted that such a commission was needed to make sure aid was given according to recipients’ needs.

Volunteers preparing food for the homeless who prefer fresh and warm meals. — FilepicVolunteers preparing food for the homeless who prefer fresh and warm meals. — Filepic

“How can a food basket for a single mother of two children be sufficient for a single mother of eight? Their needs are clearly different,’’ he pointed out. A homeless person, he said, did not need groceries like oil, rice and perishable food because they did not have a kitchen or a fridge to keep them.

That is why surplus food handed out to them gets thrown away.

“What they need are medication, toiletries, surgical face masks and hand sanitiser,” said Ab Wahab.

“We need to study the needs of the people we want to help.

“Not everyone wants a food basket; some families’ needs are different, and the same goes for food.

“Not everyone wants cooked food either, and that is where the problem will be compounded when aid given does not fulfil their needs,’’ he added.

Senior citizens among those waiting for food in Lebuh Pudu. — FilepicSenior citizens among those waiting for food in Lebuh Pudu. — Filepic

Food Bank Foundation is currently working with various NGOs, soup kitchens and private companies to establish a proper database to ensure the aid given is suitable.

“This way, we can help cut down on wastage with efficient distribution of food aid,” Ab Wahab explained.

He noted that it could also prevent abuse of funds.

The foundation, established in January 2019, works with over 80 NGOs to coordinate, plan and carry out the collection of surplus food nationwide.

This has helped to enhance surplus food management and ensure the underprivileged have access to the right amount of food.

Last year, the foundation dis- tributed 320,255 tonnes of surplus food to 915,014 households nationwide (see chart).

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