Non-profit organisation Free Food For All rallied its troops in Singapore for a day of giving on Labour Day (1 May). Volunteers came together to give out food rations and other household necessities to the less fortunate in an event titled A Touch of Ramadan, an interfaith collaboration between Masjid Yusof Ishak and the National Council of Churches of Singapore. TheHomeGround Asia joined volunteers and organisers to get a glimpse into the heart of Ramadan.
Giving back is not a one-day affair. Throughout the Ramadan season, volunteers have taken time out every day to distribute donated cooked food, groceries and ready-to-eat meal packs to residents in need across the nation, benefitting thousands of households and supporting them during this holy month, and beyond.
“Ramadan is a time for me to give to people,” says Rosila binte Ramly, a volunteer with Free Food For All (FFFA) since November 2019. And she feels much “satisfaction” being able to contribute to the community, especially during Ramadan.
“When you do all this [volunteering], you feel very happy,” she shares. “Sometimes, you feel like you’re [badly off], but there are other people that are [worse off] than you, you experience it.”
Along with her brother, Hamzah, Ms Rosila is in charge of the food distribution point located at Block 806, Woodlands Street 81, a rental flat under the Public Rental Scheme. Together, the siblings had established the food distribution point in July last year, in western Singapore, wanting to give back to a community a little closer to home. Previously, they had helped out in the north, at a centre in Yishun.
While the Woodlands centre started out slow, with fewer than 20 beneficiaries, it has since more than doubled in scale, due to the outreach efforts of volunteers. Today, they serve 56 beneficiaries within the block.
On a typical schedule, Ms Rosila works with private donors and FFFA to distribute cooked food or food rations to residents approximately every fortnight.
But things have been a little different for Blk 806 residents during this year’s holy month. With the support of FFFA, volunteers take an hour of their day throughout Ramadan to distribute a bowl of warm mutton porridge from caterers Spice Village to residents in the area.
While this is done in the late afternoon in preparation for iftar (the evening meals with which Muslims end their daily fast at sunset), the recipients of this bowl of porridge are not restricted to any race or religion. Instead, anyone is free to collect it.
“We open to everybody,” explains Rosila. “To the public, to the students, whoever passes by, we just give… It’s for everybody, free food for all.”
FFFA Founder Nizar Mohamed Shariff chimes in, “Ramadan is a month when Muslims fast. But I think there’s a general misconception that you should only feed Muslims. What we do is we feed everyone – whether they are fasting or not fasting, that is besides the point.”
A ‘Touch of Ramadan’ for those in need
For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a time of fasting, self-restraint, and giving back. At FFFA, they hope that this season will bless not just Muslims, but the community at large.
This is why the void deck resembled a factory line on Labour Day afternoon. Ms Rosila says volunteers gathered to “radiate the light of Ramadan among the less fortunate to help ease their burden,” and distributed 70 care packs to beneficiaries. They also delivered ration bags to the doorsteps of immobile and/or elderly residents.
The distribution exercise operated like a well-oiled machine; large red bags were passed from hand to hand, as each person took turns to deposit their assigned item: bee hoon, rice, eggs, masks, hand sanitisers and other necessities.
Intermittently, residents walked by and cast curious glances. A few of them greeted the volunteers and engaged in casual banter, an indication of the residents’ familiarity with the volunteers, forged over months of interaction during the regular food distributions.
And while residents were all smiles when receiving the food rations, the volunteers, too, found themselves blessed in the process.
Siti Zubaydah binte Mohd Hamzal is one of the volunteers overlooking the operations for the day. A single mother to five boys, Ms Siti was a beneficiary herself when the food distribution point was first established in Woodlands.
“I was interested to be a volunteer because I always ask for help from MP [Member of Parliament], I’m under SSO [social service organisation] assistance; I know how it is to be at the lowest point, how it feels,” she explains.
“When I receive something, even if it’s a bit of rations, I feel so happy,” she adds. “As long as I have food on the table for my kids, I feel happy. I want to be a volunteer because when we’re giving [to] someone, they will pray for us. It’s a blessing… Just to pay it back to the community.”
In the season of Ramadan especially, Ms Siti feels incredibly fortunate to be able to give back on top of just receiving. She also acknowledges that while times have been hard during the pandemic, volunteering her time has given her much in return: “There have been a lot of rations. Since I joined as a volunteer, there has always been enough.”
Besides the daily food distributions and weekly ration distributions at seven locations around Singapore, FFFA is also delivering an increased amount of ready-to-eat meal packs islandwide during Ramadan.
The meal packs were developed back in 2019 to provide meals that are nutritious, halal, and easily stored in ambient temperatures for needy individuals. A wide range of meal options are available in this pack format.
“They can have their normal meals as and when they want, but those times that they do not have, these meals will come in handy,” Mr Nizar explains. “Sometimes, what you want to give them is the power of choice… Just because they are poor, they should not be deprived of a choice.”
In total, he reports that they have delivered over 65,000 meal pouches to needy families during the Holy Month. When including daily cooked meals, FFFA has provided about 100,000 meals to Singapore residents in need since Ramadan started.
A heart for giving back, regardless of season
The month of Ramadan is about giving back but giving does not end there, says Ms Rosila, adding that volunteering is also more than a one-off action or physical activity.
“Volunteering is not just giving food, sometimes it’s to listen to them. Sometimes they need someone,” she says.
For Ms Siti, giving back helps her find fulfilment and happiness, which is why she continues to do so, even if it means giving up some of her own rations: “Every time I am giving, I feel happy. When I see the smiles on their face, I feel happy,” she says. “And because I’m in charge of this block, when someone approaches me and says they are really in need of the rations, I will give mine to them. It’s okay if I don’t get it.”
For Mr Nizar, Ramadan is about looking out for one’s neighbours: “If everyone of us are concerned about our neighbours and we look to the left, and look to the right, our neighbours [are] okay, they have enough food… We will have a more compassionate and understanding society.”