“There’s nothing like waking up at 7am on a Saturday, going to the (family service) centre, and seeing 800 bags of product waiting to be packed.”
In the past year, many Singaporeans have done their part to help those who have been struggling with the pandemic. From setting up an Instagram page to give local hawkers a shoutout to starting social enterprises to raise funds for needy families and even sewing cloth masks that make lip-reading possible for the deaf and the hard-of-hearing.
But Jerrold Lam, 23, has been volunteering even before Covid hit. He first joined the Singapore Red Cross in 2015 during junior college and decided to commit to Project R.I.C.E + when he got into university.
“I felt like Project R.I.C.E + spoke to me because of the large scale and the potential benefits it can give to all these beneficiaries, that will truly help a lot of people out there,” Jerrold tells The Pride.
In the past year, he, together with other youth leaders at Project R.I.C.E.+, have created social media content and launched online campaigns to get donations from the public.
Launched in 2008, Project R.I.C.E.+ is the brainchild of the Red Cross Youth Chapters, and got its name from its original initiative to organise the collection and distribution of rice. It has since evolved to delivering food items and basic necessities. Beneficiaries include single-parent households, skipped generation families, the elderly, migrant workers and domestic helpers, as well as residents of the Red Cross Home for the Disabled.
With the pandemic affecting Singaporeans, more families have been reaching out to Family Service Centres (FSCs) for help. However, with no physical roadshows allowed, the youth leaders at Project R.I.C.E.+ decided to shift their donation drive online.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Joining Jerrold are Lim Wen Ying And Hillary Chua, both 21. All three share similar volunteering journeys.
“When I was in university, I saw that there was this Red Cross Youth chapter. I decided to join them to continue volunteering and helping others,” says Wen Ying.
Hillary is also no stranger to the Red Cross, having participated in blood donation efforts through its blood drives and publicity booths since she was in secondary school.
Her desire to reach out to people made her join Singapore Red Cross and Project R.I.C.E +.
She says: “It reminded me of a past volunteering experience when I delivered meals to the needy and saw how many vulnerable groups in Singapore needed support.”
The three joined Project R.I.C.E +’s management committee in 2021.
From physical roadshows to online donation drives
But planning a donation drive during a pandemic is not easy.
“During last year’s project, the physical fundraising phase was halted and shifted online due to the circuit breaker,” shares Jerrold.
He explains that in previous years, Project R.I.C.E + would hold roadshows where volunteers can interact more with the public and collect donations in person. But with restrictions then, they had to rely solely on online donations, collecting only about $20,000 in donations last year.
But this year, geared with a year’s worth of online experience and more relaxed safety measures, the team has done much better.
From reaching out to potential sponsors via LinkedIn, co-creating a publicity video for their cause, to uploading content regularly on their Facebook and Instagram accounts, the Project R.I.C.E.+ committee explored myriad creative ways of outreach and engagement online.
The team also partnered up with local supermarket chain Sheng Siong and delivery tracking startup Detrack to introduce creative new ways of organising the donation drive.
Jerrold tells The Pride: “We were able to collect over-the-counter donations at Sheng Siong for a limited period of time and because we were more familiar with what to do with our online presence, we managed to raise about $228,000 (as of 28 June) so far.”
The increase in funds has also helped them to increase the number of beneficiaries they can help, from 12,000 last year to 22,800 (and counting) so far this year.
Following the conclusion of the donation drive on 30 June, the Project R.I.C.E.+ team will pack the items and deliver the bundles to the households later this year.
Most memorable experiences
Wen Ying shares that during her two years at Project R.I.C.E +, her most memorable experience was going down to the FSCs and meeting beneficiaries.
“I heard how this couple had one meal a day, either lunch or dinner, just to save cost because they couldn’t afford to eat more than that.”
She also shares the story of a woman whose husband fell ill, forcing her to take up a part-time job to raise five primary school kids. The woman would often not have enough time or money to buy food and necessities for her family.
“For their meals, they only have rice and curry, and they can eat that for days at a time, and sometimes the mum wouldn’t even eat so that her kids can have more to eat,” says Wen Ying.
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It was memorable seeing how Project R.I.C.E + efforts helped them, especially during the pandemic.
“The kids are too young to cook or dabao for themselves, so they eat the snacks (in their bundles) while waiting for their mum to get home from work.”
Similarly, Jerrold was astounded to witness the scale of the project after participating in the packing and distributing at the FSCs.
“You see 800 bags of product waiting to be packed and stand there and think, wow and it’s not just me, there are about 40 other centres. So you truly understand the scale and the number of people you’re truly helping in Singapore.”
Jerrold shares with The Pride how proud he felt that despite being a youth, he and other volunteers are helping to make a difference in many peoples’ lives.
Like the others, Hillary says she enjoyed interacting with beneficiaries and volunteers the most.
“It’s nice to meet family members and their children, especially because the children are always excited to see what’s inside the bundles,” says Hillary.
She talks about how some of the beneficiaries were grateful as they relied heavily on the support they were giving.
“We speak and interact with the beneficiaries during the collection, so they can give us their feedback,” shares Hillary.
The team has taken such comments into consideration — for example, this year’s bundle of necessities include diapers.
Besides meeting the beneficiaries, Hillary enjoyed interacting with the other volunteers as well.
Project R.I.C.E + currently has 300 volunteers — from Red Cross youths, as well as members of the public and corporate organisations. These volunteers help to package the bundles and distribute them to beneficiaries at FSCs. Others do door-to-door distributions for beneficiaries who have mobility issues or are unable to collect them at the centre.
“They were all extremely hardworking and eager to do their best and help the beneficiaries, and some even stayed behind and gave extra support if needed,” adds Hillary.
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Making a difference
Kathy Calvin, CEO and president of the United Nations Foundation, once said “Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.”
At its core, Project R.I.C.E + is about coming together as a community to provide support to those who need it. This help can come as a donation, spreading the word of this project to your friends and family or volunteering your time to help the team.