Bank of noble deeds

Rafi (second from right) handing food aid to a recipient in Kampung Pantai. With them are members of non-governmental organisation Seremban Parliamentary Group.

RETIREE Mohd Rafi Abdul Kudus is a well-known face in Kampung Pantai, a village in Negri Sembilan.

His current project of a food bank is helping those in need during these dire times.

Inspired by local philanthropist Irene Hisham, who is a swimming instructor from Seremban, Rafi started his own food bank called Pantai Village Foodbank in July 2021.

“The idea came about when my eldest daughter, who was unemployed for more than a year, needed help.

“I also heard that many of the housekeepers who worked at resorts in my neighbourhood were also laid off or suffered from pay cuts because of the nationwide lockdown.

“It dawned on me that many people have lost their livelihood to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Rafi, who had worked in the oil-and-gas industry for 32 years before retiring in 2011.

He initially contributed by donating groceries to Irene’s food bank.

Rafi’s next goal is to help eligible Kampung Pantai residents to apply for government aid.Rafi’s next goal is to help eligible Kampung Pantai residents to apply for government aid.

“I was so inspired by her commitment that I decided to help her with the logistics as well, since I had a four-wheel-drive to distribute groceries to her recipients.

“Later, I started the first food bank in my community in Kampung Pantai, with the help of Irene.

“My friend Mokhtar Omar was kind enough to allow me to use his store for the food bank,” he said.

At first, Rafi, 68, set up an unmanned food bank for people to grab-and-go.

However, people tended to be quite shy to take the food, so he decided to adopt a food-on-the-go concept instead and mobilised his food bank by distributing door-to-door.

The food aid consists of essential items like onions, potatoes, rice, sugar, sardines, milk powder, biscuits and beverages.

Rafi said he would sometimes buy from local, small grocery stores as well to support local businesses.

He gets help from his wife Angela as well as Mokhtar to deliver food to about 20 families every week.

During lockdown, when the unemployment rate was high, up to three deliveries were made each week.

Rafi initially started the food bank with a RM500 fund — RM200 donated by his youngest daughter and RM100 from Angela’s eye specialist, with the balance coming from his own pocket.

“I am aware that money and commitment are essential to sustain this initiative, but with the help of my neighbours and friends, I’ve managed to raise RM20,000 over time, which is sufficient to sustain the food bank until July 2022.

“I don’t accept funds from strangers because of legal implications,” he said.

“We supply food to those who are jobless due to the Covid-19 pandemic, or just don’t have enough money to get by.

“I was surprised that many in our village fell into that category. Most of them are relying on the generosity of others,” he added.

Among those who have benefitted from Rafi’s food aid are retirees living on minimum pensions, disabled individuals, flood victims, people who lost their jobs amid the pandemic, and the infirm who live alone.

“Due to a lack of knowledge, many of them had difficulty applying for financial aid.

“They are not tech-savvy so it is inconvenient for them to make an online application.

“The physical application can only be made at specific centres, which are located quite a distance from the village.

“With the lack of information, people who wish to apply sometimes go to the wrong centre and they end up paying more for the transportation than the aid amount that they will receive if their application is successful.

“It is also very difficult for old people and others with mobility problem to travel about,” he noted.

“Moving forward, my goal is to make the financial aid application process more convenient for the villagers.

“There are still many who do not know about the aid that they are eligible for.

“Mokhtar and I are planning to go door-to-door to educate them on this matter and at the same time, help them with the application process so that more people can benefit from the government aid,” said Rafi, who enjoys bird-watching and volunteering in bird conservation work in his free time.

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