With the Jubilee of Mercy, the Sacred Heart parish has begun to run a soup kitchen with volunteers helping to prepare up to 200 meals each Saturday, including university students and lecturers. The food is handed out near the local market where the needy line up. As volunteers meet the poor, “their eyes are opened to the needs of others,” said Fr Tan who is behind the initiative.
Kampar (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Starting 16 January, scores of people in Kampar, 170 km north of Kuala Lumpur, gather every Saturday to cook a meal for the city’s poor.
Launched for the Year of Mercy, the soup kitchen is the brainchild of Fr Aloysius Tan, pastor at the Sacred Heart Church in Kampar. For him, “it is a small way to let others know about the presence of God and the Church here”.
Many people from different backgrounds take part in the initiative, ordinary parishioners, but also students and lecturers from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), as well as members of catechetical groups and other parishes.
Meeting between 2 and 5 pm, they take turns to cook the food and prepare the dinner for about 180-200 people. When it is ready, it his packed and taken to a distribution point near the local market area where long lines of needy people wait patiently.
The soup kitchen is open to anyone. However, about 80 per cent of those coming for meals are the urban poor, mainly Chinese senior citizens, as well as ethnic Orang Asli*, and Indians. Many of them are poor, homeless or have physical, social or mental issues.
Not including rice and oil, ingredients cost about 350 ringgit (US$ 90). Organisers plan to expand the service, and continue after the Jubilee ends.
“We want to increase the frequency of the meals, and start soup kitchens in other places too. We also would like a permanent place. It’s one way of staying connected with the community,” Fr Tan said.
The next stage will be the purchase of an industrial size freezer to stock more food.
The success of the project depends on the number of sponsors and on the parish’s ability to raise money each month.
The soup kitchen is already well known, not only to the urban poor, but also to the Kampar market traders who offer discounts when they see the soup kitchen helpers and the church van.
Feeding the poor is a meaningful experience for those who do it. “They gather together with the poor and their eyes are opened to the needs of others,” Fr Tan said.
Some Catholic UTAR lecturers who volunteered brought along their non-Catholic friends to help and the latter were so touched that they want to come again.
A 21-year-old youth called Fr Tan to donate his birthday money to the soup kitchen and asked if he and his friends could help.
Infant Jesus Sister Amy Sam is in charge of the service. People from Basic Ecclesial Communities “have told me that, since coming in to serve at the soup kitchen, they have begun really talking to each other and building up relationships,” she said.
* Orang Asli are indigenous people, divided in 18 officially recognised tribes.