Covid-19 Exclusives: Providing Nourishment for the Frontliners


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AS EARLY AS February, pictures of doctors and nurses with tired faces, imprinted with the tight elastic bands of their face masks and shields began circulating online. Videos of emergency workers collapsing in complete exhaustion, with some sobbing uncontrollably, took the internet by storm. Covid-19 had begun its rampage, and the impact of the harsh work to stave off a pandemic by healthcare and medical workers everywhere unfolded before the eyes of millions.

To recognise the sacrifices made by these frontliners, encouraging and supportive comments by netizens flooded the worldwide web; the already esteemed medical community was elevated to an even higher level of admiration.

SIP’s top priority is to provide healthy meals for frontliners working long hours in the hospital.

In Malaysia as many as 3,000 retired nurses returned to serve at the frontline to help contain the outbreak. Doctors of various specialisations, both in the public and private health sectors, volunteered their time to administer Covid-19 tests. With a capable Health Director-General at the helm, doctors and nurses have been working hard round-the-clock since the very first signs of the pandemic in the country appeared.

Their sacrifice has inspired many Malaysians to respond in kind, seeking out avenues to contribute resources in an effort to flatten the curve and ensure that the healthcare system is not further overwhelmed. Some have been mobilised to home-manufacture more PPE gowns and face shields for doctors; others have organised around caring for the basic needs of frontliners. In this effort, Penangites have not lagged behind in their support for their very own frontliners.

Soroptomist International Penang (SIP), a notable women’s club, is a stellar example of successful grassroots crowdfunding and community organising for the purpose of supporting frontliners. Since the announcement of the first phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO), SIP has committed the majority of their time, energy and resources to a service project designed with frontliners in mind.

SIP’s president Michele Lim explains that the endeavour was the only logical, compassionate response. When the MCO was declared by the federal government, healthcare workers and medical personnel were mobilised to shore up the healthcare system. Many doctors worked long hours and skipped meals in order to oblige strict hospital protocols. Adding to this, the food stalls usually frequented by the medical staff which are located behind and around the Penang General Hospital (GH) complex were shut in compliance with the MCO. Moved by the hard work and sacrifice of these frontliners, Lim was determined to support them in her capacity as SIP’s leading lady.

The Lunch for Frontliners Project reminds us that every helping hand counts; no matter how big or how small a contribution, many hands make light work.

Lim was also motivated by personal reasons. In early April nine hospitals in Malaysia were selected to participate in a World Health Organization-led Covid-19 global drug trial. Leadership of this research for Malaysia was placed in the capable hands of Dr. Chow Ting Soo, the Infectious Disease consultant from Penang’s GH. Lim and Dr. Chow were childhood friends and had grown up together. Following the announcement of the MCO, Lim got in touch with her friend to offer assistance and the issue of hot meals for frontliners quickly rose to the top of the list.

The Lunch for Frontliners Project was soon launched. SIP’s top priority was to provide healthy meals for frontliners working long hours in the hospital and facing the unpredictability of this pandemic. The service project was also aimed at boosting the morale of the team working on drug trials in isolation, to remind them that their fellow Penangites were rooting for them.

Though many others were also doing the same, what really set SIP’s project apart was the unique partnerships we were able to form with reputable restaurants and caterers in Penang.” Lim describes the project as a partnership and a joint venture between multiple food service providers, namely Bayview Hotel’s premier rooftop establishment, the ThreeSixty Revolving Restaurant; the Punjabi-Jawi Peranakan heritage and cultural gem, Jawi House Café Gallery; Kafe Roti Bakar at Penang Times Square; and the premium bespoke food caterer, ENFD (Enfold).

SIP also supplements Penang GH with PPE gowns and hospital grade face masks whenever additional funds are available.

These food service providers were tasked with both the preparation and delivery of the healthy halal hot lunches directly to Penang GH and four Health Clinics at Tanjung Bungah, Tanjung Tokong, Batu Ferringhi and Bukit Jambul. “They did so at a fraction of their normal prices, making it fiscally possible to carry out the project,” Lim says.

The entire project was carried out in accordance with the strict MCO guidelines stipulated by the Health Ministry. Lim stressed that this initiative would not have been possible if not for the avid participation and support from the restaurants and caterers. She also attributes the project’s success to the generosity of donors and to the word-of-mouth fundraising efforts of SIP sisters.

When contacted, Dr. Chow relayed the gratitude felt by her and her team for SIP. “All who received the lunch boxes felt the love and appreciation of their fellow Penangites. The meals were delicious and provided the nourishment and hopeful encouragement needed to spur them.”

SIP has also supplemented Penang GH with PPE gowns and hospital grade face masks whenever additional funds had been available. Lim shares that SIP’s next service project will focus on the needs of underprivileged students whose schooling was disrupted by the MCO. As schools and universities resort to e-learning platforms, the opportunity gap can only widen further.

Many low-income families are unable to acquire the high speed internet required for a meaningful e-learning experience and only a handful of students from these families have access to a personal laptop with basic specifications.

SIP has enlisted the help of principals and school counsellors from previous service projects to identify students who are eligible to receive these laptops. In mid-May the first batch of laptops were distributed to three schools. There is much work to be done to meet needs in the community, and SIP is just getting started.

Organisations like SIP – and many others – are a beacon of hope and an inspiration. They show that it is indeed possible for a grassroots movement to respond effectively and compassionately in an uncertain time. The Lunch for Frontliners Project reminds us that every helping hand counts; no matter how big or how small a contribution, many hands make light work. The value of a community response cannot be undermined.

Marcus Dip Silas is a Penang-born interculturalist, food and Enneagram enthusiast. In 2019 he started The Dips Co. a refugee advocacy non-profit business. He lives in Kulim with his wife, where he runs his home bakery, Bake News Co.

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