No money to pay the bread-man

SINGAPORE - Some time in September, a Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) representative sent me a private message.

She said she was reaching out to opinion leaders and influencers to participate in SKM's digital campaign: a bread donation drive it was initiating in partnership with Gardenia, called #NationOfKindness.

She asked if I would encourage my friends to hashtag #NationOfKindness on photos of themselves or others carrying out acts of kindness on social media platforms Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

SKM hoped that these hashtagged photos will have a multiplying effect, where my friends' friends, upon seeing such pictures, will be encouraged to hashtag and post their own photos of acts of kindness.

They said they needed 5,000 hashtags as Gardenia promised to donate a loaf of bread for every hashtag to needy residents of specific one-room HDB flats.

It got me thinking about my childhood. I was from a disadvantaged family and my mother was my hero. At one point, she held down three jobs just to feed us and to keep us in school.

There were times when we had little to eat and were thankful when the bread-man delivered bread. When we were out, he would throw the loaf into the two-room flat through the window.

My mother would pay at the end of the month.

But there were times when we did not have enough to pay him. When he came, my mother would switch off the lights and tell us to keep absolutely quiet, hoping he would assume no one was home and return another day for his dues.

Repaying kindness

But I have always suspected the bread-man knew we were in and could not pay. He was kind enough to still provide us with bread, knowing that my mother would eventually pay him. And my mother always did.

That's why I said "yes" to supporting SKM's digital campaign. I know first-hand that a loaf of bread may be all needy residents have to eat for the day.

We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world but poverty exists here, even if it's not always visible.

According to the social and community arm of the Catholic Church in Singapore, Caritas' project "Singaporeans Against Poverty", there are 105,000 low-income families caught in a cycle of poverty even with Singapore's economic success.

The number of low-income families has prompted renewed calls for an official poverty line to be set so the poor can be appropriately and adequately helped in Singapore.

So far, the Government has rejected such calls, saying that it risks "a 'cliff effect' where those below the poverty line receive all forms of assistance, while other genuinely needy citizens outside the poverty line are excluded.

In the interim, as the Government and concerned activists try to find the middle ground on how to help the poor better, I am glad that SKM's #NationOfKindness digital campaign reached its goal of getting 5,000 hashtags.

The 5,000 loaves of bread will be distributed between Jan 1 and March 31 next year. At least, these low-income households will have a little more to eat. Even if it may be just one meal.

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