In the Mountbatten area every Saturday morning, residents and others living outside the area drop off food donations for the elderly and disabled homes.
By ELEANOR YAP
A sheltered area which sits on Old Airport Road near a coffeeshop is often used by the coffeeshop if its area is crowded with patrons. But every Saturday morning, that area is emptied out of its plastic chairs and tables to give way to donated dry goods for elderly and disabled homes. This is all part of an on-going, 15-year project called Food & Friends by a handful of volunteers who are grassroots leaders from the Mountbatten Management Committee.
The idea was originally muted by one of the pioneers of the project, Elaine Yang, to the then Mayor Eugene Yap, previously an MP for Mountbatten. He was quick to support the initiative and erected a sign near the sheltered area in 1999 as a call for action for donations. Since a new mayor has taken over, the project continues with food donations going to eight elderly and disabled homes – Jamiyah Home for the Aged, Metta Home, Society Home, Man Fut Tong Nursing Home, MacPherson Moral Family Service Centre, Lions Nursing Home, Thong Teck Home for Senior Citizens and Moral Welfare Home. Those in the Mountbatten area, as well as others living outside the area, come before 11.30am every Saturday to drop off the dry goods. Even some of the shop owners nearby have joined in to make food donations.
The donated items include eggs, Milo, bee-hoon, oranges, rice, apples, bananas, adult diapers, oatmeal, Horlicks, instant noodles and vegetables. Each home receives a food donation worth S$400 to S$500. However, especially during Chinese New Year season, they get an overwhelming number of donations. According to Yang, some donors even go to the extent of purchasing eggs from the store nearby and asking the staff to bring them to the sheltered area or even to pass the goods to the nearby NTUC FairPrice for staff to bring to the area. For over two years in the beginning of the project, when the food supplies especially eggs were low, Yang took it upon herself to use her own money to buy them.
As the food donations arrive from the public, the volunteers help to segregate the various donations to the homes with metal signs on the ground designating the names of the homes. Some of the volunteers go into the marketplace to pick up food donations at the shops and public donations of food given to the shops. Since those who donate know the food would go to eight homes, the food is equally divided with enough supplies for each. John Goh, a real estate agent and a pioneering member of the project, added: “Most of the times we don’t know the public who give but they seem to trust us because they know that we have been doing it for a long time.”
At about 11.30am, various vans from the elderly homes pull up on the side of the road and the drivers get to the sheltered area to tally up the day’s donations. After the details are recorded and Yang or a volunteer gives the go-ahead, the drivers and their assistants start loading up their vans. A little after 12pm, the food is emptied out and most of the volunteers are gone.
Self-employed Michael Leong, a volunteer for over 10 years and one of 10 regular volunteers who come down, shared: “Rain or shine except for public holidays, we will all be here. … I come down around 10 to pick up food in the nearby marketplace with a trolley. I like doing social work; it is really a passion.”
Added Goh, “When I was young, I liked to help the needy. I do it out of my interest.” He arrives on Saturdays usually at around 8am to go into the marketplace to pick up the food donations.
The homes receiving the donation are praises of the project. Shared Edmund Tan, manager of Metta Disability Care: “We are always heartened to see our clients’ sparkling eyes whenever they savour the vegetarian food, knowing it would not have been possible without our donor’s generous donation. The basketful of groceries received every Saturday help us lower the expenditure for food significantly in Metta Home. The Food & Friends project has made a huge difference in our clients’ lives by continuously providing them with quality food for many years now. Our heartfelt thanks to them.”
Yang is happy about the positive feedback both from the volunteers as well as the homes in the project and is glad to have played a hand in starting it. A previous business owner for 30 years-now-turned retiree, she noticed that people would often donate food to temples. She saw this as opportunity to bring it into the community and the initiative being “owned” by them. She persuaded the shop owners in Old Airport Road to meet up at the Mountbatten CC to discuss her project and they were readily happy to lend support. According to Yang, some 30 stop owners agreed to donate whatever dry food they could. However, the public started noticing and wanted to get into the act.
So how did she select the homes? Yang went to ask the various homes if they would be keen to participate and if they could provide their own vans for the pick-up. She shared that initially, some stop owners went to the homes to see how their donations were being used and Yang sometimes makes trips down to check on them. She said she is not adding more homes for now as she worries that she might have a shortfall of supply.
“I am very happy seeing people drop by to donate. I am 66 years old and have no plans on taking a break and not being a part of this project,” said Yang. “People prefer donating food than money to the homes. Also, they find having the sheltered area an easy and convenient place for them to donate (since some live nearby) rather than go all the way to the homes. They also are concerned with a money donation as they don’t know where the money might go to.”
A community that cares
On Saturday morning as the vans were being loaded up, there were a few stragglers still bringing plastic bags of food. Nicky P and her mother, who didn’t want to be named, were the last ones that morning as they quickly went to NTUC FairPrice and bought around S$50 to S$100 worth of food including Milo, crackers and instant noodles. “We moved to the area last December and we didn’t know about this project. We only found out in January when someone told us about it and we wanted to be a part of it. Every Saturday, my mother comes down and buys food for the donation. Since we live in the area, we felt it was important to contribute,” said Nicky.
A community that binds together and cares is a community that wins in the end of the day.