A pit stop for second chances

28 Sep 2016 / 15:38 H.

IT was a sunny Monday evening, and a line was forming outside one of the buildings along Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, within the heart of the city.
I made my way into the building – Pit Stop Community Cafe – where the line started, passing through its half-closed shutters, to see a group of people busy preparing the place up and cooking food.
There I was, with a few other people – including a Scandinavian student, a Lebanese doctor working in a private hospital, and a nurse (names are withheld for confidentiality purpose). We got our hands sanitised and were later briefed by Pit Stop Community co-founder Andrea Tan, on how to manage the crowd, and what to give them.
Before us, there were big blue pots containing chicken porridge, lamb porridge, vegetable stew and bubur chacha (sweet potato dessert), as well as hard-boiled eggs, bread and potato fritters on the tables.
“Give only one egg, a piece of bread and one potato fritter per person, and fill the bowl with one of these porridge or bubur chacha,” she told us. Each of the volunteers was then tasked to handle one food item – I was assigned to give out the vegetable stew.
As the clock showed 5.30pm, the shutters opened, and the crowd started making their way in – one person at a time, as they slowly received the food given.
Each of us politely asked if the customers wanted chicken porridge, mutton porridge or vegetable stew, as they handed their plastic bowls to us. And upon receiving their food, they thanked us, and took their seat – either in the cafe or by the five-foot way.
The crowd comprised various people – the homeless, the poor, mothers with children, blue-collared and even white-coloured workers who came in an orderly manner for the food.
Some also placed money into a clear box near the entrance, as payment for their meals. Some were also seen coming back in line for seconds – with smiles on their faces each time a spoonful of porridge or bubur chacha is placed into their bowl.
While these customers were eating, Joycelyn Lee, the cafe’s co-founder, took time to talk to the customers as they enjoyed their meals.
In about an hour, all the food were almost cleared, and the customers left the cafe with a satisfied look on their faces, and tummies filled.
Lee told theSun that this is considered a ritual for the cafe and its volunteers when the evening crowd comes daily (except Tuesday when it is closed) for the food.
“The food served is healthy, of quality and tasty – we will only serve what we will eat ourselves.
“Our cheapest meal on the menu is our Bubur Manis (sweet porridge), which is about RM2.50, and it is the most popular thing with the evening crowd – it is a taste of nostalgia for the people, regardless of their background,” she said, noting that the sweet warm dessert is made based on her family recipe.
Lee also stressed that the cafe has a strict conduct in managing the crowd daily
“If you want to eat, you have to stand in line; it does not matter if you are middle management or a CEO, we open at 5.30pm and you stand in line,” she said.
“Three main rules here are line up properly, be polite and courteous, and take care of the cleanliness and waste no food.”
She also said volunteers have the right to refuse to serve if the customers were rude to them.
Lee also stressed that Pit Stop, which started its operation earlier this year, is not a soup kitchen, but a commercial cafe.
“We serve commercial lunch with probably the cheapest food in the city – where a plate of Nasi Goreng and an egg and a drink can come up to only about RM5,” she said. The cafe, which aims to be a social enterprise to feed the urban poor, as well as those who are fi nancially stretched, hinges on both its commercial lunch business and funding from the public to continue its operations.
“Every evening, we give out 125 eggs as well as a minimum of 5kg of vegetables and 5kg of beans in our food,” she said.
She noted that through its Facebook page (www.facebook. com/pitstopcafekl/), the cafe is able to source from the public.
“Every time you eat in our cafe (during lunch hour), you help fund our operations,” Lee said.
Lee said that she, along with Tan and another co-founder, social activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi, came up with this cafe to help address and combat the homeless issue and urban poverty.
“We are a hub for people who want to serve and feed the needy,” she said.
Lee said she is in communication with other nongovernmental organisations to help the needy in the city according to their needs. She pointed out that this cafe is a beginning for many things to come.
“Malaysians are still kind people – times are getting harder, and those who can help, will continue helping,” she said, adding that help goes to those regardless of race, religion, gender or orientation.
At the end of the day, I paid for a bowl of bubur chacha, and walked back to the LRT station with a smile on my face – being able to learn about Lee’s cause and being able to contribute to it.
Indeed, one should not only try out the food served at the cafe, but try to help out as a volunteer at the cafe, or even contribute by paying forward suspended meals to those who are in need.


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