Payment row over free meal project

Singer-songwriter and founder of Project Awareness Elson Soh.

SINGAPORE - An initiative to give elderly people a free meal has seen the project's founder lodge a police report against a former volunteer.

Singer Elson Soh, 25, founder of Project Awareness, complained that the volunteer, known only as Bob, paid stallholders for free meals when he was not authorised to do so. He also said Bob tarnished Project Awareness' reputation by claiming on Facebook that it was not responding to the residents it was supposed to help.

Bob, 47, said he paid the stallholders only because they had complained of not receiving money for the free meals.

In May, Mr Soh started a Meal Privilege Voucher programme for the elderly, who can use the vouchers to redeem $2 meals from three participating food stalls at a coffee shop at Block 802, French Road.

Last Tuesday, Bob wrote on Facebook that an elderly man was embarrassed to use his vouchers: "...the store owner kept questioning him when the organisation will clear the outstanding (debt)."

Bob met the elderly man, Mr Seah Soi Tee, 68, when he helped with the programme in May. He said he stopped a month later as he did "not like the way they do things".

He paid a total of $400 - what he claimed was owed - to a roast duck stall and an economical rice stall, but not to the third stall as it joined the programme only last month.

Mr Seah, a retiree who lives in a rental flat, said Mr Soh gave him about 30 vouchers each in May, June and July, which he shared with the elderly living around French Road.

"I introduced the stalls to the singer. When he didn't pay, I feel very 'paiseh' (embarrassed) to eat there any more," said Mr Seah.

The two stallholders confirmed they received $400 from Bob, but denied asking an elderly man about it.

Project Awareness' project coordinator, Mr William Soh, 37, said the two stallholders were paid regularly. But "my volunteer had not been able to settle... with the economical rice stall as it was closed every time he was there".

In a post on its page in April, Project Awareness said stalls will be paid in advance. Serial numbers would also be printed to prevent cheating.

The vouchers The Straits Times saw did not have any serial numbers. Mr Soh said: "We are printing a new batch which will have serial numbers."

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