The Soup Kitchen


I promised to do something before the year ends – to help at a local soup kitchen, the Willing Hearts.

This is not the first time I’ve volunteered, been helping at a rehab hospital, the museum, art institute, schools, here and there in local charities.

At one point, I must confess that I stayed at a place for a wee bit too long and was reluctantly dragged into workplace politics, the social black hole I do not wish to be part of.

Why black hole? Because it absorbs one’s energy in mundane gossips, manipulations, power struggles, clustering and other trivialities which puzzles me that some people can be so worked up over community work.

For goodness sake! We’ll all volunteers, giving our spare time to help in a mission, not to pick territories and fight for titles.

Are the poor needed in society so that the rich can feel good helping them?

What is true altruism and what is staged kindness?

It took some time for me to get over the cynicism and now I’m ready to go back to volunteerism.

So this morning, I approached the soup kitchen somewhat guarded but open to whatever tasks they needed an extra pair of helping hands.

There were already groups of polytechnic students, members of a church and staff from a large MNC. It’s easy to tell who they were – everyone was wearing T-shirts printed with the names of their organization in the front and back.

The MNC was even more organized with special company vests, brand clearly displayed, a coordinator taking photos and recording their corporate CSR activity with executives having a feel-good time giving back to society. Help comes in all ways.

Not part of any uniformed troop, I joined a couple of ladies dishing out noodles into plastic containers and packing them into trolleys ready for distribution all over the island to some 3,000 needy folks – the elderly, people with disabilities and families unable to sustain on single meals per day.

Makes me wonder. How did we get to have so many needy people and this is only one soup kitchen?

Food is the physiological element for survival and yet there are people depending on charity to live from one day to the next. If we were to measure Singapore’s well-being using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs instead of GDP, how will we compare with other wealthy countries? The gap widens.

In the soup kitchen, dishing out food is an easy chore. As I covered each container, I imagined the face of an old folk home alone, the silhouette of a sick person on a wheelchair, the hopelessness of a impoverished parent – waiting for this meal.

And I’m glad I woke up early this morning especially when I could see Tony, the founder of Willing Hearts toiling over the giant wok in the kitchen and not seated in some fancy cool office. That’s true altruism to me.



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