Mother of two and founder of Project Love Lunch Priscilla Ong has been helping to deliver food and groceries to needy children and families in Marsiling and Yishun since 2014.
Unlike her team of able-bodied volunteers, the 38-year-old infant care teacher requires a personal mobility aid (PMA) to move around.
She has been using a PMA – a mobility scooter – since she got in a car accident in 2016.
However, that has not stopped her from doing volunteer work three weekdays a week and two Saturdays a month.
Priscilla tells The Pride: “I’ve come to terms with (my disability). Last time I would say, if only I could do this or that. But now I’ve learnt to say at least the vehicle can carry more than I can (which allows me to deliver more food).”
“My husband always says that I abuse my vehicle,” she laughs.
No child should go hungry
Priscilla founded Project Love Lunch in 2014 when she was teaching in a now-defunct pre-school in Woodlands. She wanted to help the needy children staying in the nearby rental flats in Marsiling.
“These young kids would come to school the next day wearing the same clothes,” Priscilla says. “Neglect was a big issue. Also the kids did not seem to have enough to eat at home. When they come to school they are hungry. Once, I saw two of my students, a pair of brothers, digging in the dustbin for food.”
Priscilla explains that most of the families are already supported by government schemes but some still slipped through the cracks.
So she spoke with her school principal and they decided to extend the pre-school’s hours to 9pm instead of 7pm so that they could also provide dinner for the children.
But even though the school was providing meals on weekdays, Priscilla was still concerned whether the children had enough to eat on weekends when they were not in school.
“Why not give them bread, biscuits and milk over the weekend, I thought. From there, Project Love Lunch grew. Once a month we also distribute groceries so that it will be more sufficient for the families,” Priscilla says.
After Marsiling Care started, Priscilla moved Project Love Lunch to Yishun, where it delivers bread twice a month to 250 families living in one or two-room rental flats over five blocks there. It has also extended the food distribution to needy seniors.
Priscilla mobilises a core team of ten volunteers for the bi-monthly distributions.
She says that its funding comes mainly from its own pool of volunteers as well as several corporate sponsors. Project Love Lunch also regularly looks for donations from the public on its Facebook page to sustain the programme.
“Because of Covid, we don’t want to have too many people on the ground so we are just managing with the core team. It can get taxing but I’m thankful that they are very supportive,” Priscilla says.
A family affair
For Priscilla and her family, volunteering is a huge part of their daily lives. Her son Zechariah, 19, daughter Stephanie, 17, and godson Yukimura, 4, not only help with the distribution on Saturdays, but also help to collect and pack the bread every week on Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays.
Priscilla has trained her children and godson to volunteer since they were young as she believes in instilling a sense of generosity in them. She started taking Yukimura along for the distribution work when he was only 2 years old!
And their innocence reminds Priscilla of the inherent goodness in our children.
She says: “Once, Yukimura innocently asked an ah gong ‘why your shirt got hole?’ He replied that he had no money to buy new clothes. Yukimura said ‘nevermind, I ask my mummy to buy for you.’ (It is because) he wants to see them properly dressed.”
Priscilla adds that her kids even recently took over the bread distribution for an entire week (because she had a fall on Christmas Day). She was, however, still on site to coordinate the distribution and ensure everything ran smoothly.
She says: “I’m never left with excess bread, there is always not enough. Whatever we collect from local bakeries, we distribute. There are no leftovers. Which is why even if I am very tired I still want to ensure that all the bread is collected and given out.”
Volunteering doesn’t stop in a pandemic
Even during the circuit breaker period when schools were shut and Singaporeans were advised to stay home, Priscilla was out every day delivering lunch to the children and elderly. To ensure that she followed the rules , she hung the food outside their doors to avoid unnecessary contact, and even told them not to come out until she left.
“I was afraid they would go hungry because there is no school, who is going to buy food for them?” she says.
Despite the pandemic, Priscilla is optimistic that Project Love Lunch will continue to grow. She hopes to be able to reach all ten rental blocks in Yishun.
To do this, they need more regular volunteers and sponsors.
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Over the years, she has formed a special bond with the children and elderly that she helps. Priscilla shares that she has a youth team of six volunteers who are beneficiaries of Project Love Lunch.
“They just wanted to give back after receiving help themselves.”
The work that she does with Project Love Lunch may be rewarding but it is also tiring.
Says Priscilla: “The doctor said that I am already overstraining myself by doing so much and he told me to slow down. But I told him, now that I still can volunteer, I want to do it, because there might come a day when I can’t.”
“I just hope to ensure we can be there for them as long as possible.”
To volunteer with or contribute to Project Love Lunch, visit its website.
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