by Nigel Chin on

What would you do if you came across an elderly woman feeding off scraps of leftover food at a hawker centre?

Would you walk away and avoid her like the plague? Or would you offer to buy her some food?

Claris Ortega was not sure what to do after spotting an elderly woman, who was dressed in a purple polo T-shirt and a very old pair of denim three-quarter pants, at the Clementi Food Centre last Thursday. She also noted that the woman had used raffia string as a belt.

Ortega had just finished her dinner and was about to leave when she saw the woman, who had a trolley of folded up cardboard boxes with her, looking “hungrily at the plates of scraps left behind by previous customers”.

Ortega eventually offered her food, but not after some hesitation. She wrote in a Facebook post that she was afraid of how the woman would react. It was only when the woman came back by chance that she gathered her courage to approach her.

“I went up to her (and) before I could open my mouth, she asked me in Cantonese if I could buy her a packet of chicken rice,” wrote Ortega. According to Ortega, she offered to buy the woman two packets but she insisted on having only one.

The 30-year-old Singaporean told The Pride subsequently that she was “afraid my perception of the situation might be wrong and I’ll offend her”.

“I guess it is the result of a very Asian upbringing that ‘face’ is very important,” she added. And she realised the woman wasn’t just looking for empty cans to recycle, but actually scavenging for food, only after observing her for quite some time.

“I felt I needed to at least find out if she was OK, so I decided to go up to her. I figured I’ll just start with a casual chat. I guess it is my values and it is in me to need to help,” said the healthcare sector worker. Ortega also pointed out that other people at the hawker centre had ignored the elderly woman, leaving her to go about her business like it was the most normal thing.

The reason behind her Facebook post was not to brag about her actions, she wrote, but to remind those who came across the post of the “true meaning of humanity and the importance of (having) compassion for another living thing”, said Ortega, who also gave the woman some bread she had purchased from a bakery.

“Please help pass the kindness on”, she added. “PS: Would really appreciate if anyone sees this old lady around the Clementi Central area to please go up to her and buy her a meal if you can.”

Ortega’s Facebook post has garnered more than 5,800 shares on the social media platform as of Wednesday.

Her act of kindness has not gone unnoticed: Many netizens praising her and her post attracted the attention of Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). MSF thanked Ortega for her “kindness and public spiritedness” and said their representatives have been in touch with the elderly woman and her family for some time to provide her with the support that she needs.

MSF added in their statement: “Building an inclusive and a caring society is a collective effort.”

So the next time you see someone in need like this elderly woman, wouldn’t it be nice if you do what Ortega did?

You could be helping a very hungry person, or at worst, get told off, which would mean a slight loss of pride and perhaps a little embarrassment. Which would never be as bad as having an elderly, needy person go hungry for a day.