Singer's free-meal project suspends fund raising

Singer-songwriter and founder of Project Awareness Elson Soh, (in red jacket) with volunteers giving out free packets of mixed-vegetable rice to residents.

SINGAPORE - A social initiative to help the needy has suspended its fund-raising activities after the Commissioner of Charities (COC) queried its accounts earlier this week.

A notice on Project Awareness' Facebook page on Thursday said it was preparing documents for the COC "so that more transparency can be given to all parties".

Mr Elson Soh, a 25-year-old singer who founded Project Awareness as a non-profit group in February, confirmed the voluntary suspension of activities, but did not answer further queries.

Its project coordinator, Mr William Soh, 37, told The Straits Times that while its on-going food programme will continue, other activities such as fund raising and home visits to elderly beneficiaries will stop for now.

On Tuesday, the COC wrote to Mr Elson Soh, asking him to account for the amount of donations received to date.

It has given him until next Wednesday to detail the procedures to ensure proper accountability to its donors. Mr Soh has also been asked to explain how he identifies the beneficiaries for his project's fund-raising activities.

A COC spokesman said even though Project Awareness is not a registered charity and does not have to be to solicit donations, it would still have to comply with certain legal obligations under The Charities (Fund-Raising Appeals for Local and Foreign Charitable Purposes) Regulations for fund-raising appeals in Singapore.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times, Mr Soh claimed that Project Awareness had helped more than 3,000 families, but declined to reveal how much it had received in donations.

He said he would ask donors to state what their contribution is for and issue receipts upon request.

"Donors trust us because whenever they contribute, we would post photos (of our beneficiaries) online," he said.

In May, Project Awareness started the Meal Privilege Voucher programme to provide free meals to elderly residents in French Road and has been appealing for funds on its Facebook page.

The programme claims to support 25 elderly beneficiaries through food vouchers which can be used to redeem $2 meals from food stalls at a coffee shop in French Road.

Last week, Mr Soh made a police report against a former volunteer, saying the volunteer paid stallholders for the free meals when he was not authorised to do so.

The volunteer in turn said he did so only because the stallholders had complained of not receiving money for the meals.

joycel@sph.com.sg


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