It started with a married couple wanting to help and they roped in two friends to give out food items to those in need.
Some 13 years later, the couple, Mr Ang Kim Huat, 68, and Ms Tan Saw Teen, 66, both their friends and more than 40 volunteers are still going strong and quietly giving out food and cash to the needy every month at several estates islandwide.
They hand out red plastic bags containing items such as bread, fruits and canned food to needy residents at different blocks in an area.
The volunteers also distribute a red packet containing $20 to each household they serve. They now help about 120 households - about half of which are in Banda Street and Jalan Kukoh - up from just seven initially. They also organise outings about once every two months for welfare groups which help children and the elderly.
Funds and donations-in-kind come from the group's members, their friends, "friends of friends" and corporate sponsors such as NTUC FairPrice.
The group, Friends in Charity, was cited by Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in Parliament in March as an example of community partners which can help to serve as the "first line of defence". Most of the core members are middle-aged folk with business backgrounds.
Mr Ang and Ms Tan own different companies which sell products and equipment to the semiconductor industry.
They wanted to help those who were not receiving assistance but did not know where to start, Ms Tan told The Straits Times.
What she called the "serendipity moment" came when they saw a newspaper article about the Home Nursing Foundation's work in providing care for people in their homes, and not charging those who are really poor. "So we asked it for the names of the 'really poor'," she said.
Over time, more names were suggested to them by the charity and other help agencies, such as seniors activity centres - and the group's membership grew too.
Mr Ang said: "Some people heard about us through friends who knew of our work. They just came in and the group expanded."
Ms Tan added: "Without the rest of the group, we wouldn't be able to help as many people."
Mr Ronald Ho, 67, director of a company which provides plastic packaging materials to the semiconductor industry, joined the group in 2005. He knew Mr Ang and Ms Tan in the 1970s through business.
He said: "They invited me to join the group, and I'd been wanting to help society, so I agreed.
"We applaud what other charities are doing. But they may have more bureaucracy, more procedures, and we prefer to do things on our own."
The volunteers have also roped in their own children, such as 12-year-old Ryen Chua.
She gave out food with her parents in Jalan Kukoh two weeks ago.
"I don't know how to speak in dialect, so it's difficult to communicate with them, but I could tell that they were very happy to receive the gifts," she said.
One of the residents in the area, retired deliveryman Tan Teo Liak, 83, who lives alone, said in Teochew: "The red packet and food help to lighten my financial load, and life goes on more smoothly."
This article was first published on December 10, 2014.
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