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It was a modest block party — just two hours for the children to play — at 461A Yishun Avenue 6 last weekend.
But for Priscilla Ong and her team of volunteers, it marked a new beginning after a three-year hiatus due to Covid.
Last weekend’s mini carnival wasn’t the first she organised. Priscilla started Project Love Lunch in 2014 to help feed those who need food, like children who couldn’t afford breakfast.
The tagline on her website goes “No Child Should Go Hungry, No Elderly Should Be Forgotten”.
But she didn’t want to stop at food distribution or charity events, so she started Project Love Lunch’s Free Carnival a couple years before Covid hit. Last weekend’s carnival was the first in three years, and the fifth ever.
It was a small neighbourhood affair (only residents from nearby blocks were invited) with game booths and free food distribution, but it still took months of planning.
Priscilla, 39, started the carnival for the children who never had the chance to experience fun fairs or theme parks.
She tells The Pride that when she was a child, she had friends who never got to experience that sense of innocence and excitement. She didn’t want the kids now to miss out the fun they could have as children.
‘Giving comes naturally, not meant to be a chore’
The carnival was also a special occasion to celebrate her older child, Zechariah Solomon’s 21st birthday. He graduated with a Diploma in Biomedical Science in May and is enlisting for National Service soon.
When asked why she involves her kids in her charity work, Priscilla simply says: “Giving starts from young.”
Her other child, her daughter Stephanie, 19, is studying to be a childcare teacher.
Exposing her children to volunteer work — Stephanie was 9 and Solomon 11 when they started — have made them grow up to be more aware of the people around them.
“I just want them to learn to be appreciative of what they have,” says the proud mother.
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Priscilla is also proud of the children in Marsiling and Yishun (where Project Love Lunch is active) whom she has helped. She brightens up when she remembers how the children would thank her for being in their lives since they were still in diapers.
One of those kids is taking her O levels this year, she says with a smile.
Solomon (as he prefers to be called) says that volunteering from a young age exposed him and his sister to the different communities in society. He thinks their mother helped open their eyes to the outside world.
“A large part of the reason we do what we do is because we used to be disadvantaged as well,” he says frankly.
Solomon admits that at first, he felt forced to participate by his mum but over time, he has grown to embrace volunteering as a lifestyle.
He feels strongly about bringing people together. He likes seeing and making people happy and does what he can to help.
Helping people move furniture or clean their homes is fulfilling enough for him because it’s something he can easily do. He tells The Pride he may not be the best person to be able to “gel well” with others, but he enjoys making people happy through actions, not words.
In secondary school, he got his class to participate in a Project Love Lunch home cleaning for a Values-in-Action project. He recounts how some of his classmates found cleaning a home disgusting.
“As volunteers, we are not there to offer judgement,” he tells The Pride.
At the carnival, Solomon switches languages to speak with different beneficiaries.
He speaks Malay when he’s with a makcik or pakcik, or a smattering of Teochew with a elderly granny. He picked up the languages when he was younger, apart from the usual English and Mandarin.
While Solomon plans to open a library-themed cafe after National Service, Stephanie plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps to be an early childhood educator.
‘Our family is not that much different than other families in Singapore’
While Singaporeans are open with their wallets to donate money, fewer volunteer their time.
Solomon believes that many of us are actually afraid of committing to volunteerism. Perhaps it’s our fast-paced society or we are unable or unwilling to find the time for others.
It’s okay because no one is obligated to help others. Full-time volunteering can be difficult, says Solomon, admitting that sometimes he doesn’t attend events he has planned when he just can’t make it.
But even once in a while is good enough, he adds.
Both Stephanie and Solomon had their share of issues growing up. Solomon was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and Stephanie is dyslexic.
Priscilla also doesn’t subscribe to the usual enrichment and tuition classes that many Singaporean parents put their children through.
“I’d rather let them do volunteer work because they can grow in other ways,” she explains.
Despite their family challenges, both Solomon and Stephanie are committed to their dreams. Priscilla believes that even when life goes awry, nothing should stop someone from becoming the person they want to be.
At Secondary 3, Solomon moved out to live with his great grandmother to take care of her.
Stephanie believes that her dyslexia has affected her applications to be a teacher. Nevertheless, her love for children has kept her going on her journey to be a childcare teacher like her mother.
“Don’t let the labels you carry be your tumbling stone,” says Priscilla, recounting how she continued to volunteer while confined to a personal mobility aid after a car accident in 2016. She still uses the PMA today.
A family affair
Seeing Project Love Lunch’s 22 volunteers (kids too!) in action at the carnival was like watching an extended family working together for their community. Seeing children as young as a few months old join the carnival was definitely a heartwarming sight.
Priscilla says: “I want to thank my core team, Madeline, Eric, Elina and Miller. Really without them nothing is possible. The backend work is not easy.”
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She’s also grateful for her supportive husband. And to her kids, she says: “Mummy is proud of everything you have done, not only for Project Love Lunch but also in your life. Continue reaching for the stars because as long as you are determined, there is nothing that can stop you.”
Volunteer work isn’t easy but the exposure helps you realise that the world is much bigger than the comfortable bubble you live in. Priscilla and her family have found their own volunteering path.
It’s more than just distributing food. It’s more than just cleaning someone’s home. It’s about finding and sharing the love, with the family and beyond.