Today marks Day 51 of the Movement Control Order (MCO), and 48 days since Projek Sinar was launched in response.
The number of families requesting aid continues to increase as more families run out of savings. Since the start of the project, a total of 447 families have been fed on a regular basis.
But what does feeding 447 families mean? Why 447 and not 4,500… or even 45,000?
Looking at our progress report, you’d run the numbers and say wow, that’s RM919 per family! Let me help illuminate what’s behind those numbers, how Projek Sinar is carried out, and what feeding these families mean to us.
A Targeted Approach
Economics teaches us that resources are limited. Every organisation has their limit - their X. We’ve decided to channel our X in 3 urban low-income communities. These are communities we’ve already been working with long before the MCO. We’ve run programs for children and their parents here. We know the community leaders and there is a trust established. Most importantly, we understand their needs.
The total households in these 3 communities alone is estimated at 6,000 households. Assuming even 50% require aid; that would mean 3,000 households x RM100 = RM300,000. That’s a staggering amount that would have only lasted 7 to 10 days.
The benefit of using a targeted approach has enabled us to conduct screenings to prioritise who receives aid. We started by calling families from our programs, assessing their level of need at the start of the MCO. Over time, we’ve expanded our list to include referrals from community leaders and other NGO’s.
Increasing Needs With MCO Extension
In the first 2 weeks, many families were able to manage with savings and food stored. It was the single-parent households or elderlies living alone who were unprepared to last past the first 7 days. However, with each MCO extension, we found that more families had exhausted their savings. By April, our priority list had shifted to large families with young children where the breadwinners were out of jobs.
Over 4 weeks, the GG team conducted phone screenings for over 600 families to determine their needs. One lady we spoke to had only rice, sugar, and salt. Some were surviving on plain rice, egg, or ikan bilis. Many resorted to feeding their toddlers Teh’O with no money to buy milk. There were also times where we decided to exclude families with adult children from our aid, recommending them instead to apply for the government cash aid (Bantuan Prihatin Nasional).
While we are unable to know, with certainty, the sincerity of each case, this step does help us prioritize the aid. Alternatively, if we waited to conduct a thorough check of every family, it would have defeated another crucial point of providing aid during a crisis--that aid needs to be timely and delivered fast. Finding that balance was not easy, but it was important that we still tried.
What struck me most was the honesty and kindness we encountered while making these calls. There were families who told us they could manage and asked that we use our resources for others who need it more. There were those who even told us they were sharing what little they had with their neighbours, including the aid we gave them. In many of the calls I made, they had a positive outlook despite the difficult realities facing them.
Another benefit to a targeted approach is that it allowed us to provide consistent and constant aid throughout the MCO period. We don’t aim for big numbers, but instead, to provide meaningful aid to the families we select.
A father with his 4 children when they received the food aid.
From mid-March to mid-April, every family received groceries once a week. From mid-April onwards, we revised it to bi-weekly for small families (3 pax and below) and weekly for larger families (4 pax and above) to stretch our funding to feed more families for longer. As of today, Projek Sinar has distributed 2,197 food packs since the start of MCO on 18th March.
Yet, what’s key is not how many packs were distributed, but the fact that families can rely on the aid weekly. This consistency reduces anxiety in worrying where to get food once the initial supplies run out.
Working Together As One
Additionally, we also worked with NGOs in similar localities to reduce hoarding, an unfortunate by-product of aid distribution where certain individuals seek help from multiple sources and end up with bags of rice, wasting precious resources. While the reason as to why this happens is uncertain, we do recognise that the fault can lie with aid distributors for lack of coordination.
Perhaps families hoard to cope with uncertainty so by designing Projek Sinar to send food weekly and collaborating with NGOs to remove duplication of beneficiaries, we hope to provide a small degree of stability in uncertain times while ensuring the aid provided does not go to waste.
“Kami sekeluarga sangat gembira untuk dipilih. Bila makanan sampai, suami amat berterima kasih sebab makanan sudah habis dan tidak tahu bila dan di mana untuk cari makanan seterusnya.”
It's What's Inside That Counts
The contents of the food pack each week
One of my absolute favourite elements of Projek Sinar is what’s inside the box the families receive. Yes, the familiar staples of rice, oil, eggs, and other tinned food are included. But we didn’t stop there. Thanks to our amazing suppliers, FK Supply Sdn Bhd and Grub Cycle Sdn Bhd, the box also included fresh vegetables and two whole frozen chickens every week. On top of that, we rotated certain items to provide variety. For example, one week we gave Milo & Nestum then the following week we gave Maggi Mee and biscuits. Last week, we even added kurma for the families who would be observing Ramadhan.
In addition to the screening calls, GG also conducts an Impact Assessment call to every family who receives our aid. We check to make sure everything is received in good condition. These calls also tell us that our food items last 7 days for a household of 4-6 people. For larger families, it only lasts 3-4 days, while smaller families can make do for 2-3 weeks.
In the first 2 weeks, we learned that 5% of families did not like baked beans. We switched it out for other sources of protein such as ikan bilis or frozen sausages/ fishballs. We got a better response the following weeks, with a higher majority of families telling us they found all the food items useful.
Why is all this important?
Because as we enter the 7th week of the MCO, we are assured that these families, especially young children, have received a variety of nutrition. Can you imagine the impact a daily diet of just rice and eggs for over 40 days will have on a person, let alone a child? Also, we’ve reduced the number of nights they go to bed hungry. One lady I spoke to told me “Because of you all (Projek Sinar), my children can sleep at night. Thank you so, so very much.”
While we can’t feed everyone, we do our best to ensure the ones we do feed have enough.
Being Socially Responsible
The supplier doing door-to-door deliveries for Projek Sinar families
The last important element I want to share lies in the answer to the age-old question, “Do the ends justify the means”? Feeding hungry families is indeed a noble end. But what if it results in us carrying COVID-19 into the community; further complicating an already complicated situation for the very people we intend to help?
As a precaution, all our food packs are delivered door-to-door via our suppliers with a limited number of personnel. Masks are worn. Standard sanitization practices are observed. We ensure delivery by photographic proof at point of delivery and we follow up with our own calls. It’s hard work carrying over 100 bags of 15kg rice up 27 floors in an afternoon, alongside all the other items. But this dedication on behalf of our suppliers greatly reduces the risk of transmission through group distributions, often drawing crowds to the main areas.
By removing volunteers on-ground and the myriad of risks it poses to them and the community, and instead channelling their support to calling our families, it helped us carry out Projek Sinar more meaningfully and safely.
So What Happens Next?
As we cautiously venture back into life after the MCO, there are still so many things that are not entirely clear to us. How quickly are the families able to regain employment? How does the partial opening of schools affect income-generating activities?
We don’t yet have the answers, but we are looking for them. What we do know is that:
Projek Sinar will continue to provide food to our families till the end of May, regardless of future MCO extensions. Families will need time to seek employment and to recoup lost savings. Having food security is one less worry.
We will continue to meet the next wave of challenges B40 families face in securing stability post-MCO. Plans are brewing as we speak, and we look forward to sharing how we can continue to work together in making a difference.
Caring To Get It Right
At the end of this, you may be inclined to think that executing Projek Sinar took a fair amount of time and great attention to detail. You would be correct. I want to acknowledge the hard work of the entire GG team and our dedicated volunteers who put in the hours to make this a reality. They went the extra mile to ensure at least one more family gets fed every week.
We ourselves are new to aid distribution and learning every day.
Do we stop helping if we can’t get it right? No! Another intrinsic value in caring is learning to care. It means making mistakes but also catching them for what they are and learning from them.
All of these stories were possible because of the incredible support we received from the Malaysian public. Because you cared, many families were fed.
On behalf of the team, we are truly honoured to have been a trusted charity partner to many. We look forward to sharing more stories next time.