Founded by Joycelyn Lee and Andrea Tan, Pit Stop Community Café is a commercial eatery by day and a soup kitchen of sorts by night. After a year of feeding the homeless (or ‘street clients’ as Joycelyn and Andrea refer to them) and the urban poor, the café has now become a known place of refuge and respite among the community.
The café operates from an old three-storey shophouse along Jalan Tun HS Lee. The décor is kept simple – white painted walls, exposed concrete floors and wooden furniture. ‘We kept the design of this place minimal because we feel it’s more welcoming to our street clients. We want them to feel comfortable here,’ says Andrea.
During the day, paying customers can get a hearty meal from only RM5. To help reduce costs and waste, the café works closely with the Food Aid Foundation as well as wholesalers to collect edible food that’s unused or unwanted (food nearing their expiry date, surplus stock, dented cans of food, etc).
At night however, the café serves a different clientele. During the dinner service, volunteers lay out around 300 to 400 portions of food which will feed around 200 street clients on a regular night. Here, they don’t just hand out packets like other soup kitchens. ‘We give them an empty bowl and ask them to choose their food. Newcomers become perplexed as to what they want because they’re so used to having food packets. They get a sense of dignity when they’re able to choose instead of just having to accept handouts,’ says Joycelyn.
A ‘pay as you feel’ system is imposed – anyone can take any amount of food and pay what they can if they wish to. By giving the street clients the chance to pay for their food, even if it’s just five sen, it helps them feel proud of themselves, that they’ve earned their meal.
Aside from providing food, Joycelyn and Andrea also organise skill programmes – English language training, basic culinary skills, kitchen management – for anyone who’s willing to learn in hopes that they can be placed in jobs. One team member working alongside Joycelyn and Andrea is Soon – once homeless, Soon now works in the kitchen and on the service line come night time.