Equity in Singapore: The Increased Help Needed for Soup Kitchens to Serve the Underprivileged
Written by: Vera Goh
What happens when an overworked single mum juggling multiple jobs has no time to cook for her children?
How does a disabled elderly couple buy groceries to feed themselves?
These are just two cases of people who fall through the cracks of our social assistance scheme. Singapore is often thought as a prosperous country with a high standard of living. However, the underprivileged are often out of sight out of mind. Many lack the means to provide proper meals for their families every day. Willing hearts, a charitable volunteer organisation prepares and delivers up to 3000 meals daily. Tony Tay, the founder starts toiling in the kitchen as early as 5am and works until 7pm. Volunteers prepare lunch from 5am till 12pm and start prepping for the next day’s meals.
Although I did not visit Cambodia with the rest of grade 10, I helped out at the soup kitchen of willing hearts and better understood the plight of the underprivileged in Singapore, a group we often think does not exist due to our high GDP and modern infrastructure. We might believe that we do not have poverty like Cambodia, a less developed country, but relative poverty still exists in Singapore and many struggle to feed themselves on a day to day basis. I prepared food in the morning, packed the cooked food and fruits, before heading out to deliver them to the people eagerly waiting. At each block, we gave out 100 packets of food and we drove out to 5 different blocks. Are the resources in Singapore distributed evenly such that everyone has minimum access? This trip made me question if this really was the case. With the widening gap between the rich and the poor, soup kitchens are critical to ensure the underprivileged have equitable access to resources. As I packed 25 avocados in a bag, it made me think how the underprivileged struggle to even buy two fruits for themselves. Looking at their smiles and eager hands when they received the food from us, it struck me how thankful they were and how hot food daily was a privilege to them.
The lack of equity also compromises on the freedom of choice of the underprivileged. Helping out made me realise how the poor lack the freedom of choice with regards to their meals. Dependent on daily deliveries they cannot be fussy about their food. We often take the freedom of choice for food for granted, picking and choosing what to eat, throwing much away into big garbage bags. This experience reminded me how blessed we are to be able to pick our meals every day because the choice does not exist for everyone.
What happens to all the food we choose not to eat every day? Leftovers are thrown into large garbage bags and wasted. Singapore generates 790 000 tonnes of food waste a year – almost two bowls of rice per person daily. Willing hearts depends on food donations from wholesale markets and supermarkets to have materials to cook hot meals. However, they consist of fruits which are overly ripe, vegetables which are starting to turn black at the edges and thus remain unsold. Hence, more can be done to save resources and donate them to charitable causes which need them- soup kitchens. The vast amounts of food wasted can be put into good use by feeding the underprivileged. This is especially since Singapore is a small country which lacks natural resources, heavily dependent on imports from other countries.
The responsibility to help the underprivileged not only lies with the government but with each one of us. “If everyone can help just one other person, that would be enough,” says Mr Tay. The soup kitchen needs volunteers to help in order to successfully deliver all the 3000 meals- people to prepare, pack and deliver food. When I went to soup kitchen, I saw for myself how they had baskets of cabbages to cut, cartons of avocados to pack. The poor may not have the freedom of choice to choose what they eat or choose to be in poverty but each one of us has the choice to volunteer at soup kitchen and lend a helping hand to alleviate their poverty.
Singapore may be a more developed country than Cambodia. However, similar issues of equitable access to resources exist.”When I was poor, I was helped without any questions asked, so now I give” Mr Tay explains. As the poor struggle to feed themselves, we can do more to help feed the underprivileged.
Othman, L., Reducing food waste: Getting Singaporeans to embrace ‘ugly food’. Channel NewsAsia. Available at: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/reducing-food-waste-getting-singaporeans-to-embrace-ugly-food/3229504.html [Accessed January 25, 2017].
Anon, Soup kitchen cooks up hearty meals for the needy. AsiaOne. Available at: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/soup-kitchen-cooks-hearty-meals-needy?page=0%2C1 [Accessed January 25, 2017].