Feeding the poor - it's color blind

  • In Your Face
  • Wednesday, 06 Apr 2016

Mustard Seed volunteers pass food packages to Myanmar refugees

WHEN I started writing In Your Face in 2014, I had several goals - with one of them being to highlight ordinary Malaysians who were working on the ground to empower others in a compassionate, positive manner.

And when it comes to that, I have been fortunate as over the years I have been able to highlight the work of people such as Mustard Seed Soup Kitchen founders Sha Kok Tein, Ho Lai Peng and Ong Joo Kian as they take to the streets of Brickfields with other volunteers to feed  the urban poor and homeless with freshly-cooked warm meals.

I spoke to Sha a few weeks ago, and he explained to me how Mustard Seed Soup Kitchen manages to feed approximately 75-80 people each time they go to the ground.

"What we do at Mustard Seed is to partner with another non-governmental organisation such as Shelter. What we do is that we prepare food for the homeless and urban poor in the Brickfields area, and the food will go to the urban poor and the children of Shelter 2," said Sha.

He added that Mustard Seed budgeted RM300 for each food distribution session, which allows them to provide food for 75 people at a cost of RM4 per head.

"This means that each person receives a packet that contains one warm meal, one whole apple or orange and one 500ml bottle of water," he said.

Mustard Seed Soup Kitchen founders. L-R: Ho Lai Peng, Ong Joon Kian and Sha Kok Tein

He explained why he chose Brickfields, saying it had a diverse population of people with disabilities, single-parent families, the elderly, urban poor and the homeless of different races.

"It is a very good mix for us, we also give food to refugees from Myanmar. This is our pioneer long-term project," said Sha.

And this isn't a one off-venture for Mustard Seed. When I spoke to Sha, they were getting ready for their second trip to Brickfields to distribute food packages.

Sha shared with me the plans for an expansion of the soup kitchen.

"We plan to expand to cater to the homeless and urban poor in the Pasar Seni area," said Sha. 

He also spoke of two upcoming Mustard Seed projects - one of them being a book project on the homeless of Kuala Lumpur which is being worked on in collaboration with two other NGOs, The Nasi Lemak Project and Reach Out.

"The book will be out by December 2016 and every book sold will fund a meal for a homeless person," said Sha.

He added that Mustard Seed was working on a food bank which will kick off in June 2016.

"The food bank will help poor families in the Klang Valley. We are in the process of identifying a list of poor families we want to help," said Sha. 

And as impressive - and respectable - as this is, I also left with a deep respect for the vision and founding principles of Mustard Seed.

"We are a non-partisan, non-religious NGO aimed at helping the poor and homeless, and we hope to have Mustard Seed built as a colour-blind organisation.

"Mustard Seed will remain apolitical and areligious and this was our goal from the start and this is why we are vocal about welcoming volunteers of all races and religions," said Sha and Ho.

Ho described helping those less fortunate among us as a calling for her.

"I believe it's my calling. I got involved in this and I realized that this was something I enjoy doing in the long-term. There are those who do this thinking it is the 'in' thing now, but this is my passion," said Ho.

Non partisan, non-religious. Colour-blind. We definitely need people-first initiatives like Mustard Seed out there in this day and age. And that's another key reason why I'm highlighting their work on the ground. We really need people like them.

To find out more about Mustard Seed and their work, follow the Mustard Seed Soup Kitchen page on Facebook here - https://www.facebook.com/mustardseedsoupkitchen/

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