Behind the scenes: Feeding the homeless
By MICHELLE BOON
Lights, camera, street feed! Wait, what?
That’s what you get when you have a filmmaker-cum-founder of a street-feeding organisation for a friend. For this week’s issue on love and compassion, I wanted to write about someone who I believe embodies compassion.
Gary Liew, a film producer, is a close friend that I’ve known for years. Articulate and charming, he’s also the chairman and founder of Street Feeders Organisation, more commonly known as Street Feeders KL.
I can’t imagine how insanely swamped this guy must be. Looking back, he recalled going five days without sleep, though he said periods of madness were sporadic at the peak of his filmmaking career. Reminiscing got him wondering how he survived those times. I too, am in awe.
What inspired you to go out onto the streets and reach out to the homeless?
“About 16 years ago, my mum used to work in a soup kitchen in Bukit Nanas every week with her friends. I would often join her.
In a way, you could say I grew up with the homeless. They weren’t the stigmatised people that society thinks, but very real people. I personally witnessed the support others gave to get the homeless on their feet. It was really beautiful.
The catalyst was during Pope Benedict’s papacy five years ago; he preached about taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. I took that literally and was truly inspired.
That’s when I decided to just hit the streets because I wanted to do something. It was pretty much an ad hoc thing when I first started. There were maybe about four other friends who came along with me. And they would tell their friends about what we do.
It started off as an excuse to hang out with friends too. As I am constantly busy with work, this entire thing was partially a selfish reason to catch up while reaching out to the homeless. Now and then, we would also do movie previews. So I tell my friends, if you want to catch up, come for street feeding.” —Gary Liew
Liew found a way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. He got his best buds on board and organised a great night out bonding while giving people in need a hot meal. A handful of friends grew to a network of over 30 volunteers. Presently, Liew says they are pushing 400. He couldn’t believe the response until he glanced at a group photo.
Every Wednesday night, Liew leads the troops to the heart of KL. Why Wednesday?
Liew says, “…Wednesdays because it’s in the middle of the week and there are other street feeding groups coming in at the start and end of the week, but none in between. So that’s why. I mean, these people need to eat every day, right?”
I became us
Street Feeders Organisation is now a non-governmental organisation (NGO). In fact, they plan to expand into an international NGO, but that’s another story.
Liew says, “There’s a board of committee members and we hold meetings to discuss sponsors, funding, etc. I retained the title of chairman and founder but most decisions, excluding big ones, is handled by the committee.”
Liew says, “Money has always been a problem. I had to dig it out from my own pocket and I literally watched money in my bank reducing substantially. And I just didn’t know how to ask from friends. I mean, what would they say? So I ended up funding everything till early 2015.”
The social stigma also presented a substantial hindrance; people just didn’t understand the concept. Liew said many of his close friends shared that there was no way they could relate to the homeless. Yet he knew and wanted to spread the word—that the homeless are just like you and me.
“They have things a little harder for them, and somehow people think they don’t deserve help. The society blames the government, but society is also to blame. It’s an issue we all have to embrace.” —Gary Liew
Liew is joined mostly by young working adults who are very vocal on social media. He calls them “activists behind the screen.” While social media creates awareness, he wants everyone to understand that they are capable of doing so much more.
Liew, and I know this to be true, believes he’s an anarchist at heart. He’s resilient against the naysayers of more senior organisations. While you would think NGOs would work as allies for a shared cause, Liew has seen a territorial side of other organisations who don’t want other organisations serving in close proximity.
The social activist in Liew sometimes makes it hard for him to be diplomatic. Speaking his mind as freely as he does, has occasionally backfired. So he leans on his vice president, who complements his style of leadership, especially when a more tactful representative is required, such as for their Odyssey project with the Ministry of Finance, Malaysia.
I know my friend is wise enough to harvest new leaders and to give them opportunities to fill in the gaps that may be present in his leadership style.
“I think it was a good decision to not be the person in charge per se. I’m pretty ballsy sometimes and I learnt not to give a damn from early on and to fight for what I think is right.” —Gary Liew
I guess creating a movement takes a whole lot more to drive it forward. With the right leadership qualities, starting something small can grow into a bigger and meaningful cause for more people.
For Liew, his perseverance and hard work throughout the years, has made so many things possible, and it’s a beauty to watch how it touches the lives of people, homeless or not.
Joel Osteen once said: “Keep a good attitude and do the right thing even when it’s hard. When you do that you are passing the test. And God promises you your marked moments are on their way.”
Michelle Boon believes in giving what we can. To engage with her, drop her an email at email@example.com. For more A Day in the Life articles, click here.
Prethiba is passionate about impacting people through the written word. She believes that our lives are solely written by us, and thus the power to change for the better lies with us.