Serving Soul Food & Second Chances – This Café In KL Is A Pit Stop For Those In Need

Dedicated to helping marginalised communities, co-founder Joycelyn Lee and her team serve 150 packs of food per day, four days a week.

Cover image via Passion Portraits (YouTube) & Joycelyn Lee (Provided to SAYS)

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For the patrons at Pit Stop Community Café, a bowl of food can be life-changing

When the social enterprise opened its doors in April 2016 as a dine-in café — nestled in one of Kuala Lumpur's pre-World War II three-storey shophouses in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee — the homeless and urban poor community would be given a bowl and a choice of food from the service line for them to eat there, if they chose to do so.

For its founder, 50-year-old Joycelyn Lee, giving a safe space for their street clients to be treated like normal paying customers allows them the dignity of choice.

And it's this sort of act that can transform the life of someone in need.

Showing that one individual can make a significant impact in the life of another was the key objective for Joycelyn when she set up Pit Stop Community Café with co-founder Andrea Tan

Pit Stop Community Café co-founders Joycelyn Lee (left) and Andrea Tan,

Image via Joycelyn Lee (Provided to SAYS)

The former journalist of some 15 years told SAYS that she had always wanted to build bridges, relationships, and communities.

"Too many of us work in silos, not understanding or knowing what others are doing," she said.

After her time in journalism, she ventured into corporate communications for just over a decade before leaving the industry to cook and "soul search". That's when the Pit Stop Community Café was established.

Working on social issues is definitely no easy feat, but being able to change people's lives has been rewarding, says Joycelyn

Pit Stop Community Café volunteers at the serving station.

Image via Khairull Azry Bidin/New Straits Times

"It's a long, hard road for anyone who wants to work on social issues — the wins will be few and far between.

"However, we have seen returning street clients who have gotten breaks, found jobs, returning and saying thank you. Those experiences help us continue to do what we do," she said, adding that street kids whom they have helped have gone on to further their education.

A street client picking up his food pack at Pit Stop Community Café.

Image via Joycelyn Lee (Provided to SAYS)

Pit Stop Community Café's contribution to the community far exceeds just their patrons.

According to Joycelyn, the volunteers there have also gained experiences that have been eye-opening and moving. Some of the young ones have even changed their majors, while others have been inspired to start their own community outreach projects.

Joycelyn and her team.

Image via Pit Stop Community Café

Besides building a platform for volunteerism and reaching out to marginalised communities, Pit Stop Community Café's other key objective is to minimise food waste

To keep the cost of food as low as possible, Joycelyn said her team began rescuing and repurposing food that would otherwise have gone to landfills, for example, excess stock and near-expired goods, as well as unsold and "ugly" vegetables.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Pit Stop Community Café's food rescue activities escalated as there were many organisations and households that were in desperate need of food.

"We began rescuing larger and larger amounts, to the point that we could share what we rescued with other organisations," she explained.

Currently, Pit Stop provides these services to the community:

– Distribution of nutritious and balanced hot meals

– Raw food care packages to households that are usually provided on a monthly basis for at least two months until the breadwinner of the family gets back on their feet

– Food rescue to support the food needs of 18 organisations on a regular and ad hoc basis

Pit Stop Community Café volunteers packing ready-to-eat hot meals for street clients in December 2020.

Image via Pit Stop Community Café (Facebook)

With the rising costs of food items and packaging, and up to 150 hot meal packs to serve per day, four days a week, Pit Stop Community Café needs all the help it can get

A standard RM75 care pack for a family of four to six to have enough for at least one solid meal a day for up to 10 days.

Image via Pit Stop Community Café (Facebook)

Although Joycelyn and her team have been consistent in their service to marginalised communities, it has undoubtedly been challenging for them over the past two or so years.

So much so that, this year, the social enterprise has had to raise the price of its pay-it-forward packages from RM10 to RM12.

"That's what? A regular designer coffee? And it will make a change to someone's life for that afternoon or evening," Joycelyn said.

Additionally, since vegetables and fruits are seen as "luxuries" to underprivileged groups but are nutritional needs, Pit Stop Community Café is calling on companies in the food business to work with them instead of consigning food to the bin.

For those who want to make an impact but are not able to contribute financially, you can still do a little bit of good by lending a helping hand with meal prep and distribution.

You can find out more on their Facebook page and website.

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