A hot meal a day puts a smile on elderly cardboard collectors’ faces

A hot meal a day puts a smile on elderly cardboard collectors’ faces

Madam Poh’s face lit up as she was handed a bag of food and a meal coupon for the coming month. She had just sold her cardboard boxes before joining the other cardboard collectors at Toa Payoh Industrial Park for the Happy Sunday event organised by volunteers from the Happy People Helping People Foundation (HPHP).

Madam Poh was grateful.

Having her daily meal taken cared of meant that she could save the two dollars she had just earned from selling 20kg of cardboard boxes collected from various locations, or take a break from making the one-hour journey from Whampoa to Toa Payoh, and back home everyday. Although Madam Poh has the option of selling the boxes at a collection point closer to home, she would make the trip to Toa Payoh just to make a few cents more.

She lives with her family who no longer wish to care or provide for her. She has no choice but to find her own means of survival.

If one spoke to every cardboard collector, one would find many different stories with one commonality — these cardboard collectors barely have enough to get by. If not for the meal coupons, most cardboard collectors would be surviving on bread, eating only once a day.

Nafiz, founder of HPHP, got curious about these elderly people after he noticed a couple pushing trollies of cardboard boxes towering over their frail bodies late at night. Together with Nasyirah, one of the pioneer volunteers of HPHP, they wondered around Toa Payoh looking for cardboard collectors. The adventurous pair found themselves accompanying the elderly on their cardboard picking and selling chores where they witnessed how little cardboard sellers earned for so much hard work. Nafiz and Nasyirah were also invited to their one-room flats where they met their family members who were usually either sick or handicapped, forcing the cardboard collectors to be the sole breadwinner of the household.

It was hard to remain unmoved. Understanding the cardboard collectors’ plight shifted HPHP’s focus from overseas charity projects and distribution of ration packs to taking care of the elderly cardboard collectors.

On the first Sunday of every month, the elderly beneficiaries gather eagerly at Toa Payoh, Little India and Bedok to collect meal cards and goodies generously sponsored by individual volunteers. Donations collected on GIVE.asia pays for grocery vouchers and meal cards which allow the elderly to collect a packet of food from a designated stall every day. For the month of April, the happy folks at Toa Payoh went home with a packet of rice, curry puffs, a loaf of bread, a packet of biscuits, drinks and an NTUC voucher worth $20.

Reaching out to volunteers has been a quite success through their Facebook page. While HPHP previously

accepted donations via bank transfers, switching to GIVE.asia has helped relief the volunteers of tedious administrative tasks.

“It is easier to manage the fundraising on GIVE.asia because we don’t need to check and privately reply people whenever they donate. People can also see how much has been raised per project and how much more is needed. We post photos of receipts on the Facebook page,” says Nafiz.

Besides monetary help, Nafiz actively encourages people to get involved whenever they can. This not only helps raise awareness, but also because he understands that he alone can only do so much.

Since the start of the Happy Sunday initiative, an informal support network has slowly grown as the bond between volunteers and the elderly deepened. Many volunteers not only devote their time and money to buy and distribute food, they also interact with the lonely folks. Because of their circumstances and the work they have been forced to do, many do not feel welcomed or recognised by society.

Two male volunteers advised Madam Poh to get an x-ray scan, offering to foot the bill. She refused but the kind Samaritans remained persistent. Nasyirah, who had accompanied Madam Poh on many occasions also tried convince her. Finally, a date was set for Nasyirah to bring Madam Poh to the polyclinic. Numbers were exchanged between the volunteers and Madam Poh will receive her x-ray scan.

HPHP also stepped in to help set up a new box collection point in Toa Payoh after the old one was shut down in December. If this had not happened, the poor elderly would have to push their cardboard on the road to Ang Mo Kio, where the next nearest collection point was.

“You don’t really need money or a lot of time to help people. You can organise amongst yourself as friends, that’s how we started and help will come. When you are doing good people will want to help you out, to support the good that you are doing.” Nasyirah believes that no one is every too young or have to little resources to do good in this world.

And she’s probably quite right. Many volunteers help out on an adhoc basis whenever they are free so commitment issues are non-existent. If you wish to do your bit for the elderly box collectors, check out their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HappyPeopleHelpingPeople/) to find out when their next event is.

Similarly, if there is a particular cause you wish to support, don’t let anything stop you. GIVE.asia can make it easier to start.

*Name of cardboard collector have been changed to respect their privacy.

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