Pit Stop Community Café reaches out to the urban poor with more than just food
My first impression of the Pit Stop Community café, as I stood in front of its shutters that were half open, late in the afternoon, was that it exuded an air of tranquillity accompanied by the warmth of welcome. Here was a greeting that I did not even know existed and is perhaps very rare even in people, let alone a place. I understood later that people working in this rather unique café truly create and maintain this warm impression.
A ‘home’ for one and all
Established on April 4, 2016, the Pit Stop Community café (Pit Stop) is the first of its kind in Malaysia. Situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, it is as a one-of-a-kind establishment that reaches out to the marginalised community as well as those who feel as if society no longer has any place for them.
Its primary founder, Joycelyn Lee explained that although there are several soup kitchens operating on street corners and even going mobile around areas of Kuala Lumpur, there was something more to be done.
“We wanted to create a place – a hub, not only for the homeless or the urban poor, but also for those who are keen on resolving social issues,” she said.
The café runs commercially during lunch hours and opens their doors six days a week – with the exception of Tuesday. At 5:30pm the face of Pit Stop changes and the homeless are served with a warm nutritious meal. On the daily menu are sweet and savoury stews, full-boiled eggs and bread. The arrangement is simple – eat all you need, pay what you can, if you can and clean up after yourself.
Bringing people together
It is apparent from their motto – love all and feed all – that everyone who steps into Pit Stop is treated equally. There’s absolutely no sign of discrimination and the main purpose for being there is to fill your stomach or nourish your heart and soul.
“When you talk about food in the Asian culture, it is isn’t just about feeding people. It’s also about family and the coming together of a community, which is something that’s been missing these days”, said Joycelyn.
Utilising food as a medium, the team at Pit Stop have been bringing people from all walks of life together to reach out to the marginalised communities and make a difference, one day at a time, one meal at a time.
Hand up, not hand out
Apart from providing food for the homeless, the team at Pit Stop also focuses on how they can help to improve the lives of their street friends. This is in order for them to gradually find their way back and be reintegrated into society. As such, a hand up mentality is actively practised. As an example, the café offers a pay-as-you-can service that encourages their street clients to pay for their food, only if they are able to afford it – even if it’s 10 cents.
“This gives them the dignity of paying for their meals, and being able to afford their food,” explained Lee.
As part of the hand up mentality, Pit Stop also offers jobs to their street clients as an opportunity for those who are looking to be economically independent or want a change in their life. In fact, the majority of the staff in the team at Pit Stop were originally homeless and living on the streets.
“We do not care about your past or where you come from. What we do care about is where you’d like to go from here and how we can help you get there,” said Lee.
Pit Stop is run by a dedicated group of people who believe in making a change, doing it through practical means and have the drive to see it through. Feeding the homeless is not the be all and end all for this dedicated group. It’s just the beginning. Less than a year since its opening, Pit Stop has gone the extra mile by hosting several pilot projects aimed at helping the homeless.
English classes are on offer and targeted mainly at youngsters living on the streets. The classes give them an added skill and hopefully enough confidence to start talking about a job. The people who run Artsy Fartsy – an online craft shop – take time out to run arts and crafts classes. They teach the homeless how to craft doilies, special packaging, frames and other useful and saleable items. There are even classes in how to be a barber supported by IM4U.
Pit Stop’s crew also works hard to address the issue of food wastage through the Food Aid Hunger Games. The project comes under the auspices of the Food Aid Foundation which supports the food needs of almost 8,000 people each month. The idea behind this project is to bargain and salvage fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away of left to rot from local wet markets.
“We have gone in with RM1,000, thanks to donations from generous contributors and ended up leaving with up 630 kilogrammes of food, which is a lot,” said Lee. Now just think about all the meals that can be made from this quantity and the number of people who can be fed and the mind boggles at how much we waste.
We as one
It’s clear that there’s still much to be done in order to help create a brighter and better future for the marginalised and urban poor. The team at Pit Stop always welcomes contributions in terms of money, food and practical items such as inner and outer wear and daily necessities. Volunteering and offering to help with your professional skills, be it cooking, accounting or human resources is also greatly welcomed.
“One drop in the ocean makes a difference. This is because when that one drop falls into the ocean, it creates a ripple and the effect it brings will touch other drops in the ocean”, said Lee, as she spoke of how one person who’s willing to make a change is capable of making a difference.