Soup kitchens around the Klang Valley are bracing for a flood of food wastage throughout the fasting month as individual and political groups and even celebrities begin the common practice during Ramadan of distributing food to the cities’ poor and homeless.
While handing out warm packed meals to these communities is seen as an act of generosity and charity, much of the food often ends up in the bin instead of the stomachs of the urban poor.
Volunteer group Pertiwi which runs one of the many soup kitchens in Kuala Lumpur is familiar with the sight of convoys making the rounds at hospots such as Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.
“Sometimes the homeless receive 20 packs of biryani rice and 50 toothbrushes in one night,” its vice-president Munirah Abd Hamid told MalaysiaNow.
Unfortunately, most of this usually ends up being thrown away.
The Kechara Soup Kitchen, another non-profit organisation, told of similar experiences even before the onset of Covid-19 and the toll this took on the urban poor.
“Before the pandemic, a person could end up with 16 to 17 packets of hot food a night,” its operations director Justin Cheah said.
This year, Kechara is anticipating even more wastage as Covid-19 restrictions on Ramadan bazaars are lifted. The group believes this will lead to more food being given to the poor and homeless, and even more dumped into the bin.
Last year, when Ramadan bazaars were allowed to open for a brief period, waste management company Alam Flora recorded 33,000 tonnes of food waste throughout the fasting month.
Often, soup kitchens are blamed for the amount of food that winds up in the garbage or is left dumped on the streets.
This also feeds into the belief that such organisations hinder the poor and homeless from attempting to rebuild their lives.
“The biggest misconception about soup kitchens is that we give them food until they do not need to work,” Cheah, who has been with Kechara for 14 years, said.
“This is not true.”
This year, the group is ramping up its efforts to prevent food wastage throughout the month of Ramadan.
“We decided to give dry food which has a long shelf life and basic necessities instead of warm food,” Cheah said.
Pertiwi meanwhile is operating on a rotational basis with other NGOs in order to avoid overlaps.
“We understand that everyone wants to do good, but we feel there is an urgent need for the public to work with local NGOs who are familiar with the marginalised communities so that we don’t end up with a lot of food,” Cheah said.
“It’s not that we don’t allow them to distribute food, but we want the public to think twice and communicate with NGOs if they want to give to the poor this Ramadan.”
Munirah, a veteran volunteer, agreed.
“People think that we do not have enough food but this is Malaysia – we have too much food, and food being thrown away.
“This is our biggest problem during Ramadan.”