Widow opens home as shelter for the less fortunate

Widow opens home as shelter for the less fortunate

When Alice's daughter disappeared almost two weeks ago, she left behind her own little girl, aged just six.

And Alice, a cleaner, who declined to give her full name, has been at a loss as to how to comfort her granddaughter.

The 47-year-old grandmother told The New Paper yesterday: "She sometimes cries and says, 'My mother doesn't want me any more'."

Because Alice works nine hours a day, six days a week, she is unable to look after her grandchild. The little girl lives under the watchful eye of Madam Sarah Tan, 52, owner of pau (steamed bun) shop Choon Ming Bao Dian.

Madam Tan, a widow with three children - a daughter, 20, and two sons, aged 26 and 28 - provides shelter to children, single mothers and the less fortunate as well as a place for them to work.

She currently houses a total of seven children, including an 11-month-old baby, and two single mothers at her five-room flat in Casuarina Road.

The younger children sleep with her and the older children and single mothers sleep in the other rooms.

She has been covering their living expenses while receiving government subsidies for their school fees.

Madam Tan's pau shop has three outlets, two in Ang Mo Kio and a new stall at Toa Payoh North that offers only vegetarian options, and she plans to open a fourth stall at Beach Road soon .

The shop has been gaining popularity since news of Madam Tan's philanthropy spread online.

When The New Paper visited the outlet at Toa Payoh, there were eight people helping at the shop.

They included Sabrinah Teo, 12, and her brother Samuel, 14, who are both charges of Madam Tan.

"We call her 'mummy'," said Sabrinah.

They both help Madam Tan by washing the dishes and arranging the items at the store.

"These children are God-sent," said Madam Tan, who was teary-eyed as she described how they recently started to help out at the shop every day during their holidays.

Madam Tan, a Singapore PR, married when she was 20, but her husband died in a car accident a few years later. She left Malaysia to work in Singapore, opening her own clothing store at City Plaza.

In 2007, Madam Tan opened a dimsum stall in a coffee shop at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3. When profits started rolling in, she closed her clothing store at City Plaza.


She estimated that since then, she has provided about 50 people, mostly children, with a home.

Madam Tan has encountered difficulties along the way, including a failed business deal that reduced her number of shops from 13 to three.

Initially, the women who lived with her would also ask for more money, which strained her finances.

However, she remains undeterred.

"As long as someone needs my help, I'll take them in. The kids are like my own. We're a big family," said Madam Tan.

Her younger son, Mr Bryan Tan, was among those helping out at the shop.

"My mum has done so much for us. She's given us everything," said Mr Tan, a freelance performer.

He takes care of the younger children and helps at the shops in his free time.

In addition to looking after the children, Madam Tan also cares for the single mothers.

"As a single mum myself, I understand the problems they face," she said.

She does not know when the six-year-old girl's mother will return.

"I can only hope, and pray, that she'll come back soon," she said.

Donations flow in

Ever since news of the social enterprise spread online, all three Choon Ming Bao Dian stores have been flooded with offers of donations. Members of the public have approached Madam Tan with cheques and cash, she said.

Some customers have even offered to buy her entire stock of steamed buns.

Others have also offered to give her milk powder and nappies for the young children, as well as a dishwashing machine.

However, she turned them all down as she wants to set an example to the women and children under her care.

"I want to show them that it's important that they work hard and be self-reliant," said Madam Tan.


This article was first published on June 03, 2016.
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