HELPING people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic has brought individuals and groups together over the past year-and-a-half.
Religious bodies, in particular, have been involved in providing assistance to the needy regardless of their faith.
In Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Masjid Qaryah Ibnu Khaldun Lavender Heights (MQIKLH) secretary Zulkifli Abdul Aziz remembers when a young man walked into the mosque compound seeking help in March last year.
The man had lost his job and worried about feeding his family.
A few days later, another family came by with a similar story.
These incidents happened right after the first movement control order was implemented, prompting the mosque’s committee to set up a food bank.
Committee members then spread the word on social media, urging those who had fallen on hard times to contact the mosque for assistance.
The committee also delivered food hampers to those in need but were unable to get to the mosque.
Zulkifli said MQIKLH helped anyone who asked for aid, regardless of race or religion.
“To date, MQIKLH has contributed over RM200,000 in groceries and cash to 160 families in Seremban.
“The funds come from residents, congregation members and corporate sponsors who banded together for a good cause,” he said, adding that even out-of-state requests were fulfilled.
While the mosque has a list of recipients who receive fortnightly supplies of essential items such as rice, sugar, flour, soy sauce, canned sardines and eggs, Zulkifli said cash aid, too, was given to help families settle bills or buy diapers for babies.
During last year’s lockdown, sevadars (volunteers) at the Gurdwara Sahib Seremban who were accustomed to preparing langgar (vegetarian meals) for up to 500 people per sitting, turned their attention to cooking for frontliners.
Every morning for two months, sevadars chopped onions and potatoes, stirred vats of dhal and rolled chapati by the dozens to prepare lunchboxes for 30 employees of the state Health Department.
Gurdwara Khalsa Welfare Fund head C. Jagdev Singh said its management committee rolled out several community initiatives after the MCO was enforced in March 2020.
These initiatives, which are still ongoing, include supplying food baskets and cash to those in need.
“We have been giving dry rations to those who lost their jobs or are without means of supporting their families, as well as foreign workers.
“It was for all races... no one was ever turned away,” said Jagdev.
The committee also coordinated with gurdwara in other districts in Negri Sembilan to identify people in need of aid.
Those who required groceries could go to a gurdwara nearby for the necessities.
“No questions were asked, no photographs were taken,” Jagdev said, adding that more than RM50,000 was spent on providing aid including free meals, food baskets and cash assistance.
Devotees from Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Bukit Tembok, too, are doing their part in supporting the local community.
A few devotees had approached the committee requesting for a food bank to be set up when white flags were noticed in homes near the temple.
The shelves were emptied within a few hours on the first day the food rack was put up.
The committee then set up a registry to ensure that food aid was fairly distributed to those hardest hit.
Temple president Datuk Dr Thavanaison Arumugam expressed his gratitude to devotees and the committee for their effort in making the month-long project a success.
From July 4 to Aug 5, 845 grocery bags with rice, onions, potatoes, eggs, canned sardines and coffee were given away daily.
An average of 25 families, from all faiths and backgrounds, collected groceries at the temple.
Dr Thavanaison said he was thankful for donations from well-wishers, which helped supplement the temple’s charity fund.
“Without the donations, we would not have had sufficient funds to provide aid.
“Malaysians have big hearts and I’m very grateful to all the donors who contributed in cash and kind,” he said.
Last year, the temple also provided ananthanam (free meals) of packed vegetarian food for 70 days during the first MCO.
Dr Thavanaison said that another project for Deepavali was in the works – to provide baking and cooking ingredients to brighten up the Festival of Lights for the needy.
Mobilising devotees into action proved much easier for religious organisations with outreach programmes in place pre-pandemic.
Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) Seremban’s Caring Programme for the less fortunate was extended to include the distribution of aid to frontliners, charitable bodies and the public.
Its chairman Datin Yong Chou Lian said the organisation, which goes by its “We Care, We Do” motto, increased efforts to channel aid to those badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
BLIA sourced for and supplied face masks, sanitisers and personal protective equipment (PPE) to at-risk folk including frontliners.
To relieve the burden of low-income households, BLIA members distributed food baskets to the needy and provided cash relief for primary and secondary school students.
Yong said lending a helping hand to everyone, regardless of race and religion, was a Buddhist’s duty.
“The teachings of the Buddha advocates compassion for all and this is what we try to practise.”
In July and August, BLIA Seremban distributed food baskets at a petrol station and fast food outlet in Bandar Sri Sendayan near Seremban.
The 1,000 food baskets cost RM50,000, which was raised from the organisation’s members, their relatives and friends.
Seremban’s St Mark’s Church also has a division dedicated to giving assistance to those in need of aid.
Its care and concern ministry chairman Sam Chandran said help in cash and kind was extended to the less fortunate even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“Since the pandemic struck, the church has received even more requests for aid, mainly from people who lost their jobs and are struggling to put food on the table.
“This prompted us to organise a mobile food bank to provide groceries and daily necessities to anyone in need,” he said.
Pre-loved items such as furniture and electrical appliances were also collected and distributed to people who required them.
Sam and his team do house-to-house deliveries to distribute food and pre-loved items.
Since March last year, some 500 families have received food aid and pre-loved items such as wheelchairs, TV sets, stoves, sofas and water heaters from the church.