THE minute she laid eyes on the cocoa puffs, little Thanageswary Arunachalam did not let the packet out of her sight.
As she walked around the Clinic of Hope, a free clinic for the poor based in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur, the ecstatic six-year-old clutched the packet as if it was a precious gift.
Thanageswary, her infant sister Sumitra and mother Nageshwari Kandasamy routinely turn up at the clinic and it is not only for medical reasons.
On the third Saturday of each month, Persatuan Kebajikan Hope Worldwide Kuala Lumpur, which runs the Clinic of Hope, organises the Food for the Poor programme. Thanageswary’s family is among the 55 families who qualify for the food aid.
When the question of the criteria for qualification was posed to Hope Worldwide Kuala Lumpur programme-cum-country director Darick Wong, he smiled.
“We did not have a problem meeting the quota when we started but now that word of the programme has spread, we have to steel our hearts and tell the others who have turned up for the food to wait while we attend to the qualified recipients.”
Such was the scene one Saturday afternoon at the clinic, located on the first floor of a shoplot next to the Sentul Market, that it was spilling over with women and children within minutes of the clock striking 2pm.
Standing behind a glass wall, Hope volunteers Kathy Lee and Ang Suan Yong were kept busy handing out big bags of groceries containing rice, beehoon, cereal, biscuits, soap, coconut milk and cocoa beverages to aid recipients.
There were a few other women waiting hopefully, and one or two thought they would be going home empty-handed.
When 53 packets had been distributed and no one else turned up by 4pm, Wong divided the contents of the remaining packets among the women, putting a smile on their faces.
Food for the Poor comes under Volunteerism, one of five programmes initiated by Hope to help change the socio-economic scene in Sentul. Food and education for the poor are top priorities for the non-profit organisation.
The School Sponsorship Programme Fund was set up under the Children’s Programme to help children from hardcore poor families complete their national school education with a shot at tertiary education. Currently, 36 children are benefiting from the programme.
A few years ago, Chandrakantha Apparoo, 39, lived with her four children in a ramshackle hut behind St Joseph’s Church in Sentul and the best meal the family had was leftover rice eaten with soy sauce.
Wong was alerted to the family’s plight and today the children, Pogeneswary, 17, Jegeniswary, 14, Devandran, 11, and Divakaran, 10, are attending school.
“Our work helps us identify the hardcore poor families in Sentul. Once we have assessed their situation, we encourage them to get jobs and to send their children to school because we will handle the food and fees aspect,” said Wong, who stressed that education was one of the tools to help eradicate poverty.
In 2006, an Activity Learning Programme was started to offer underprivileged kids the opportunity to learn new things to empower them with knowledge and skills related to the computer, craft and music. Volunteers help conduct the programme.
“With the help of CIMB, we recently received five new computers so the children will have something else to look forward to when they return three Saturdays from now,” said Wong.
Under the Health Programme, Hope runs free clinics in Sentul and Penang. The Senior Programme offers the aged friendship and meets their personal needs through senior centres and home visits.