It's getting pricier to do good

PHOTO: The Star/ANN

MORE are in need and ­expenses are rising. Feeling the pinch, NGOs say that despite the high costs, they can't turn people away even though donations are down.

On Friday, The Star reported that donations for religiousbased organisations are drying up as Malaysians tighten their purse strings.

St Nicholas' Home executive director Daniel Soon says its monthly expenditure is between RM230,000 (S$76,000) and RM240,000. Founded in 1926, St Nicholas' Home in Penang cares for the blind and visually impaired.

"We have to budget an extra 10 per cent for our monthly expenses. It will get tougher next year. More appeals for funding have been sent but nothing has come in yet," he says, acknowledging that despite slower collections, St Nicholas' Home is not as badly hit as the smaller NGOs.

Soon says it's understandable why people are a little hesitant to donate these days. He himself is feeling the pinch of ­higher living costs.

"Even my family expenses are up by 20 per cent. Previously you could buy a nice packet of economy rice for RM3.50. Now it's RM5 and above. So people want to help but they just can't afford to."

He, however, remains hopeful. Recently, a group of ­workers who had just lost their jobs offered a portion of their severance pay to the Home.

"They received a lump sum payment from the company and despite being unemployed, still wanted to donate. The meaningful gesture has really restored my faith in humanity."

Meanwhile, Kenosis Home co-founder Pastor Richard Lee shares how operational costs have risen by 25 per cent. The home, which also runs a mobile soup kitchen in Kuala Lumpur, previously needed between RM60,000 and RM70,000 monthly.

Kenosis Home is a Christian drug rehabilitation programme. Founded in 2001, the centre now houses more than 150 members across seven locations in the Klang Valley.

The price of all goods and services has gone up - everything is pricier, from vehicle maintenance to cooking ingredients, says Lee. To keep afloat, the home depends on its own projects but those, too, have been affected by the uncertain economy.

"We offer lorry transportation and construction services. This brings in some 60 per cent of what we need. But lately, demand for our services has dropped by half."

This could be due to a combination of factors such as the shrinking value of the ringgit and things becoming pricier. Malaysians, though caring and generous, are feeling insecure right now, he observes.

Pointing to how people tend to give more to orphanages and old folks homes compared with organisations that help drug addicts and the homeless, Lee admits it's tough going right now.

"Times are bad. We are seeing at least 30 per cent to 35 per cent more people coming in. Our funds are shrinking but we will never turn them away," he says. (Go to kenosis.org.my if you'd like to find out more or donate.)

Rumah KIDS, which houses abused, orphaned and neglected children in the Klang Valley, is also struggling to make ends meet, its communications manager David Jenssen says.

While there's been no drastic change in the weekly collection at St Anne's Church in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, parish priest Rev Father Henry Rajoo doesn't expect an increase despite having to fork out more for rising expenses. People are still giving but it's unlikely they will give more, he thinks.

The church in Seberang Prai, which draws thousands of pilgrims to its annual St Anne's Feast, runs a dialysis centre and ­ministry for the poor.

Economic challenges have resulted in people of all races asking for aid, he says.

"It's not just the beggars during St Anne's Feast. The needy have been coming throughout the year. Expenses, including our electricity bill, are up. We buy groceries for the poor and while contributions for this might have gone down slightly, we will keep the programme going."

Calling on "corporations and the rich" to step up, Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan says individuals can't be expected to give big amounts because they too are struggling.

The deputy president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism however cautions that donations should only be given to charitable bodies that are transparent and legitimate.

"Many NGOs have mushroomed and not all of them are properly run. Do some research and make sure that the ones you are donating to are genuine."