Some hawker stalls in the CBD area may have closed their shutters temporarily, after seeing their businesses take a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But not for young hawkers Jason Chua, 28, and Hung Zhen Long, 27, who run a rice bowl stall called “Beng Who Cooks” at Hong Lim Food Centre.
The pair even started an initiative to serve food to anyone who is unable to afford meals – no questions asked.
An Instagram post, on the @bengwhocaresfoundation page set up for this initiative, calls for people to DM them to place meal orders if they were ‘’unable to put food on the table’’.
Indeed, during this outbreak, jobs have been affected and some are facing financial difficulties. *For information on relief packages and schemes available, click here.
During the circuit breaker period, Jason recalls juggling both cooking meals, and replying to more than 500 texts a day. He received many donation enquiries too – not before announcing to his Instagram followers that the best way for them to help was simply to spread the word and order meals for those in need.
Pressing on despite difficulties
Not all was smooth-sailing – Jason and Zhen Long have been scolded by customers, and some have even taken advantage of their generosity.
Jason recounts an instance where he realised one of their regular beneficiaries who had been getting free meals for two weeks was not who he said he was, after he bumped into him at a private gym nearby.
These moments can be demoralising, but he says he tries to take these instances as a lesson learnt as they’re still new to this.
He confesses that the finances are a challenge – the money he spent during the two months in Circuit Breaker comes close to their earnings in one and a half years.
But still, the drive to continue remains.
“At the end of the day, I just want to make my family proud”
The motivation for this initiative runs deep from Jason’s own personal experiences. He recalls to a time when he was young and his dad was out of a job due to the financial crisis that hit Singapore. He recounts being oblivious to the situation as his parents did not tell him what happened then.
“My dad was hit pretty badly, but he didn’t tell us. I was still eating fast food everyday. It was only when I was in secondary school that my mum told me how my dad was starving so much at that time.
These are the life lessons that help Jason press on.
During the Circuit Breaker period, Jason says he has spent more time with his parents. Through this, he has also realised that his parents have advanced in their years, and he feels the desire to make them proud. It further motivates him to carry on with this initiative.
Despite the busy-ness, he says his wife is still supportive. One of his most memorable moments was his wife telling him “you’re always so busy, you don’t even have time for me.... but, I’m proud of you, I love you”.
Inspiring those in need
There are moments that make it all worthwhile. A homeless man who had been taking free meals from them for over two weeks eventually told them that he didn’t need free meals anymore.
Jason recalls, “He just came up to us and said, ‘I don’t need (the free meal) any more. I found a job. You guys motivated me. Seeing you work inspired me to get back on my feet.”
Another beneficiary is a blind 80 year-old man, whom Jason says he’ll continue to give free meals to, even if the list of beneficiaries whittles down over time.
As for his future plans, Jason says he will keep going for now – at least for the 10 to 15 customers who really need it. He’ll continue to give these regular beneficaries free food everyday.
He admits that this whole journey has been a struggle at times, and his advice to fellow Singaporeans during these difficult times is to persevere and not give up.
This article is part of a series of stories of Singaporean youth who have come forward to help the community, during this fight against COVID-19.
Many have stepped up during this time to help Singapore overcome COVID-19.
For more stories of youths who embody the #SGUnited spirit:
Find out how you can do your part for the community: sgunited.gov.sg