It is a lazy Sunday afternoon. A group of women trade gossip at the bottom of an HDB block as their children play with soccer balls and plastic scooters when, suddenly, a van pulls up and everyone springs INto action.
"Food's here," yells one of the women and at once, the cheerful makciks are transformed into a well-oiled machine of committed volunteers. A line quickly forms at the van's door and cartons of food are swiftly unloaded and passed along the chain.
Even the children pitch in and in just minutes, all the cartons are lined up neatly, waiting to be distributed to beneficiaries.
The food distribution is organised by Sincere Hope, an initiative run by 13 "mummy volunteers" who are all residents of an HDB estate in Jalan Bukit Merah that comprises mostly one-and two-room rental flats.
The group supports residents in the neighbourhood who, according to group co-founder Renemarlina Osman, are mostly families with many children, single-parent families and the elderly.
"A lot of them are struggling," she said.
Ms Renemarlina, a single mother with two boys aged nine and 10, has had her fair share of hardships.
After her divorce in 2013, she struggled to make ends meet and had to move into a shelter home for a while.
Now, she lives in her own rental flat with her children, although everyday life remains challenging: One son has dyslexia and the other faces emotional issues due to the divorce.
"Having two kids alone - it's not easy," Ms Renemarlina said. "With the volunteering, sometimes it does become too much."
Although her schedule is packed - the 38-year-old works as a part-time care assistant at Singapore General Hospital - Ms Renemarlina is determined to help the community as much as she can.
"I know their struggle. I go through it as well. To be a single mother or to be unemployed - sometimes you just don't have the money to buy food," she said.
"All the volunteers - we can't give back financially, we don't have the means. So this is how we give back to the community - by sharing what we receive and sharing that joy."
Like Ms Renemarlina, many of the volunteers come from underprivileged backgrounds. For example, Madam Normah Ahmid's experience with the group started not as a volunteer, but as a beneficiary.
A 48-year-old single mother of a teenage boy, Madam Normah worked as an administrative assistant but often found it difficult to put food on the table.
"A lot of times, there would be things I couldn't afford to buy, like rice or vegetables. So the food distribution really lessened my burden - I felt so thankful that I found it," she said.
The first time the group reached out to her, she thought it was a one-off thing. However, the offers of help continued to come, much to her surprise and gratitude. After a while, she decided to join them.
Madam Normah recently quit her job to work full time at Sincere Hope but she also continues to volunteer there, something she considers her "passion". "There are a lot of obstacles but I love doing this," she says. "We're like one big, happy family."
A FRESH START
The volunteering began as an unofficial initiative among a few concerned mothers in the neighbourhood. They organised activities such as tuition sessions for underprivileged children and goodie bag distributions during Hari Raya.
It was only last September that the group came together officially and named themselves Sincere Hope.
Now, around 100 families benefit from their activities.
Despite the lean manpower and lack of resources - the group does not receive government support, and relies purely on sponsors - Ms Renemarlina hopes to start organising more activities for residents and their children. There is a children's trekking programme in the pipeline, as well as plans for iftar (break fast) during Ramadan.
"All of the team members share the same hope to give back to the community," said Ms Renemarlina. "As long as we are together, we'll go as far as we can."
She said the support of the other "mummies" and the appreciation of the community make it all worth it.
"The other residents will come up to me and say 'hello', 'good morning', 'how are you'. Knowing they appreciate what we do - it makes me happy throughout the day."
Appreciation is certainly plentiful among the beneficiaries, many of whom chat amiably with the volunteers while lining up for the food.
Mr Mark Lum, 37, has been going to the food distributions for about a month. He lives with his father, who is an amputee and wheelchair user. The older man also has diabetes and previously suffered a stroke. "I'm the sole breadwinner so (the food distribution) makes it a lot easier for me financially," said Mr Lum, who works in a hotel.
Also in the queue was 11-year-old Ng Jun Rong, who was there on behalf of his mother, a long-time beneficiary who works the night shift.
Jun Rong, who has four siblings, added that like his mother, who volunteers occasionally, he has helped out with the food distributions.
"It's fun. I really like it," he said. "Next time, maybe I will do more."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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