Monday 14 December 2015

Residents chip in with groceries for nursing homes

Donated food collected and distributed to about 2,000 needy people
The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2015

On the way to the Kallang Estate market, off Old Airport Road, Mr Francis Koh stopped by a grey purpose-built shelter next door.

He saw packets of rice, noodles, canned food and oil laid out neatly in eight stacks on the floor.

With his wife and two young sons in tow, he made a beeline for the fruit stall in the market.

He bought three cartons of apples and oranges; the stall assistant placed them on a trolley and wheeled them over to the shelter.

The food collected at the shelter is distributed to about 2,000 residents from eight nursing homes.

For the past 20 years, rain or shine, a group of residents has been collecting food items from the community to distribute to the nursing homes every Saturday.

"I noticed that nobody donated fruits today so I decided to buy some," said Mr Koh, 40, who used to live next to the Block 17 market.

It is through the consistent donations made by the market stallholders and residents such as Mr Koh that Project Food and Friends has been able to continue providing food for the homes for so long.

Every Saturday morning, project founder Elaine Yang, 70, and seven other volunteers are at the shelter to receive the food donations.

Madam Yang, who used to run a furniture business, and a few friends started the project in 1996 after visiting nursing homes.

She said in Mandarin: "I realised that there are people having it tough out there and it makes me very happy and satisfied to see everybody chipping in to help."

Many residents who go to the market to shop or have coffee make it a point to buy items for the needy.

Some pay for eggs while others buy bags of potatoes or vegetables. Stallholders leave the items outside the stalls for volunteers to wheel to the shelter, which looks like a covered walkway.

Some people buy rice from the nearby FairPrice supermarket and its staff help to push the trolleys of rice to the shelter.

Mr Tang Yam Keng, 73, owner of a dried foods stall, said: "Most people here know about this project as it's been around for ages. Some of them buy $10 to $20 worth of food but there are also others who give hundreds of dollars worth."

He has also been giving a few thousand dollars worth of necessities to the project every year.

To ensure accountability, the volunteers do not accept cash .

While the project started as a community initiative, word got around and, slowly, contributions from residents from as far away as Jurong and Ang Mo Kio started flowing in.

When The Straits Times visited the shelter, cars and motorcycles stopped along the road to drop off the foodstuff.

While some send truckloads of food, others do what they can. One man has been donating a bag of rice every week for the past 17 years.

Others like Madam Koh Suan Keng, 61, who used to donate items bought from the stalls in the market every week, continue to chip in even though her family has moved out of the area.

The housewife said: "After I moved to Bedok, I wanted to continue to help so I engaged a wholesaler to deliver oats and bread."

She has been giving $200 every week to support the project for the past 17 years.

Stallholder Koh said: "It is amazing how donations from the people are enough week after week to keep this project going for so many years.

"I think it is because there are a lot of older people who are long-time neighbours and the community is close-knit."

Madam Yang said she struggled to keep the project going during the initial years. She said: "Back then, we collected the food in the hot sun in the open space next to the coffee shop."

She was referring to the coffee shop at Block 21, Old Airport Road.

She added: "Not many people knew what we were doing so we tried to make up the difference from our own pockets."

She was an active grassroots leader then and called for a meeting with the market stallholders to appeal to them to help and get their customers to pitch in.

After three years, in 1999, then mayor Eugene Yap decided to build a small shelter for the project as Madam Yang told him that she intended to run it for as long as she lived.

Then, each nursing home took back about several hundred dollars worth of food; now, each home gets about $2,000 worth of provisions each month.

Two families in the area also get groceries twice a month.

"It helps me because money is tight and I need it to see the doctor," said Madam Aminah Sarman, 74, who lives in a two-room rental flat nearby. She depends on a $200 monthly government handout as her five children do not visit her.

Asked if she ever gets too tired to turn up on a Saturday, Madam Yang said: "When any of us travel, we take turns to cover for each other. Otherwise, we will be there. People still need to eat."

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