He gives food he cooks to the elderly in Chinatown

When he locks up his cafe at 11pm on Fridays, his day is not done.

Mr Derrick Wong heads out to Chinatown to chat with people who are down and out.

Why?

It may seem strange, but Mr Wong, 36, who co-owns The Loft Cafe at South Bridge Road in Chinatown, needs to do this so that people will accept the free food he cooks for them on Mondays.

He explained: "(Poor folk) have a fear of people looking down on them... They need to see that you are sincere."

The New Paper went along on one of his midnight missions last Friday evening.

Our first stop were the benches at Sago Street, where many of these folk hang out.

Mr Wong is clearly a known face as he was greeted with smiles and familiar greetings. The people asked if he had eaten and even offered to buy him a drink.

As we walked towards Chin Swee Road, Mr Wong would look out for new faces and approach them to talk. We did not come across any that night, but when Mr Wong does, he makes a note whether they live there and asks them if they need food.

If so, he will add to the number of meals he cooks, packs and delivers to these residents every Monday night.

He recalled that he was puzzled the first time he distributed the food as he managed to give out only two of the 10 packets of food.

DIGNITY

Eventually, he realised that the people there they were not keen on handouts from strangers

"They want to preserve their dignity," he said.

"What is lacking in their lives are relationships. Most of these elderly you see are lonely. One of them told me that nobody comes and stays on."

This comment made an impact on him, so he made a commitment to visit these people every week, rain or shine.

These days, he distributes up to 60 packets of food a night.

The trained cook said: "The box of food represents something more significant - it represents love. This love is contagious."

He spends about $900 a month from his own pocket on the food packets.

One of the elderly people who benefits from Mr Wong's food deliveries, Mr Nicholas Wong, 70, said: "There are poor people here. (Derrick) coming down once a week makes all these people happy."

Mr Wong, who once did time in jail for being involved in a gang fight and money laundering, has inspired others to join him in his weekly routine.

He started in February last year with just two volunteers, but he now has a team of about 10 people consisting of friends and regular patrons of the cafe.

Mr Tan Shen Kiat, 29, a lawyer, has been helping Mr Wong for the past three months. He was inspired because he could tell that Mr Wong was "going the distance".

He learnt about what Mr Wong was doing in the neighbourhood and decided to help out.

Both volunteers and beneficiaries can tell that he is a genuine person, Mr Tan added.

RESPECTABLE

Another volunteer, Miss Samantha Ng, 19, who is waiting to start her undergraduate studies, said that what Mr Wong is doing is "very respectable".

She added: "That's what I want to do in the future."

Miss Annie Cheong, 28, who runs Hello Flowers!, a flower shop in Chinatown, said: "There is dedication as what we do is not a one-off thing... You really get to know the people you serve."

Mr Wong said that while the Government is doing a lot on the macro level to help the needy, it is ultimately up to people on the ground to identify and solve the smaller individual issues.

"Sometimes, it is difficult for the Government to give them such intangible things," he added.

He said that many of these individuals do have their own homes, but due to various circumstances, they prefer spending the night on the streets instead.

Mr Ho June Seong, who is known by people in the neighbourhood as "Uncle Peter", told the New Paper in Mandarin that he goes to the area every night because he has friends here.

He lives in Clementi with his daughter, but he often stays out with his friends in the estate if it is too late to go home.

"I am touched by what Derrick is doing because it's rare to find someone young and hard-working like him nowadays," said Mr Ho.

dlaiu@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 6, 2016.
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