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When the circuit breaker was announced in April 2020, Singapore descended into a flurry of activity.
Some rushed to make work-from-home arrangements, others stocked up on groceries and essentials. There was panic-buying and confusion.
In the chaos, Laurence Putra Franslay saw a need in the community.
Before the lockdown began, he and some friends had gone on home visits in rental blocks to chat with the residents and find out how the Covid-19 crisis was affecting them.
“We didn’t know who could help,” the 32-year-old explains, “but we knew people needed help.”
Although they had anticipated that the restrictions would leave some families struggling, the actual situation was worse than expected. Many residents had either lost their part-time-jobs, or had their hours significantly reduced, affecting their household income severely.
Some families had their monthly income reduced to zero, and were unable to make ends meet.
Hearing these stories motivated Laurence and seven friends to create Project Stable Staples, an emergency response for families in need during the Covid-19 circuit breaker.
Filling in the gaps for those who need it
Project Stable Staples started as a ground-up initiative in collaboration with Bringing Love to Every Single Soul (BLESS), a local non-profit with a focus on the community.
The project’s goal was simple —it was a quick response fund to fill in the gaps and support families that were waiting for long-term support from more established organisations.
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To accomplish this, they set a fundraising goal of $60,000 — enough to support 200 families, or about 1,000 individuals, from rental communities in Boon Lay, Clementi, Bedok and others, for the next three months.
With the help of generous donors, Project Stable Staples was able to reach its initial goal in less than three weeks. The success of their fundraising efforts motivated the team to push further and expand help to more families in need.
As a quick response force, Project Stable Staples’s focus was on getting help for those in need as soon as possible.
Once, a single mother reached out to them. She was suffering from Covid-19, and was running out of milk powder for her baby. It was during the circuit breaker, so no volunteers could deliver items to her.
“We had to go on Lazada and buy milk powder for her,” shares Laurence, “the delivery came just as she ran out fully.”
Over time, Laurence and his team raised over $160,000, and it allowed them to support over 3,000 individuals across more than 600 households.
Sponsors receive updates on the families being supported by the project (the privacy of individuals are always protected!). When possible, the team puts sponsors directly in contact with the beneficiaries, so the money sent doesn’t always have to pass through their hands.
This helps them to remain transparent with all parties involved, while ensuring that they aren’t handling large amounts of cash.
Project Stable Staples operates with a zero expense ratio, meaning that all the money they raise goes towards supporting families in need. Laurence and his team do not take any salary, working fully as volunteers.
“I’m privileged to have a decent-paying job,” he shares, “I believe it’s the responsibility of those who have made it in life to take care of those who didn’t.”
The funds raised by Project Stable Staples goes into buying grocery vouchers for the beneficiaries, who use them to buy essentials such as milk powder, diapers, and food to feed their families.
However it hasn’t been completely smooth-sailing.
The team has encountered entitled people who’ve made unreasonable demands, such as buying luxury ice cream, and other expensive wants. As time went by, they had to become stricter with their giving, prioritising providing essentials above anything else.
Nevertheless, they take it all in their stride.
As Laurence explains it, they react to what’s happening on the ground, and proceed from there. No dithering about what-ifs — just straight action.
When the circuit breaker ended, the team thought that they could close Project Stable Staples — the project was never meant to be a permanent movement, but rather a response to handle an immediate problem they saw in the community.
However, people kept reaching out for help.
“We realised that we can’t just stop this,” says Laurence.
Now, Project Stable Staples operates with a smaller team of three people, with the same focus — helping families waiting for support from government programmes and other organisations.
They still accept ad hoc donations from sponsors, which are used to send supplies to needy families.
A voice of loving kindness
He was also recently recognised by the Singapore Kindness Movement as a Voice of Loving Kindness during Kindness Day SG 2022.
It’s a testament to the good work that he has done over the years, not just with Project Stable Staples, but also as a part of IAmTalented team, a social empowerment initiative for at-risk youth.
Not bad for somebody who laughingly confesses to being “the kid who always tried to get out of CIP (Community-Involvement Projects) back in school”.
When The Pride speaks with Laurence, he’s matter-of-fact about the work that he’s done giving back to the community.
He readily admits that volunteer work isn’t his grand calling — he does it because he has the resources to address problems that he sees in the community.
Laurence’s modus operandi is this: Look for a problem, see if anybody else is doing anything about it, and if they aren’t, then find a solution. Once the solution is in place, or other organisations have stepped in to fill that need, he moves on to his next project.
When I ask Laurence why he doesn’t pursue social work as a full-time career, the tech lead manager at TikTok admits that he doesn’t want to do it as a source of income.
“When your rice bowl depends on other people needing your help,” he explains, “then you aren’t as motivated to help them out of those circumstances.”
He subscribes to the idea of poverty premium, or more popularly known as The Boots Theory, from British fantasy writer and satirist Terry Pratchett.
Laurence explains it using toilet paper as an example — when you have enough money, you can afford to stock up on cartons of toilet paper during a sale.
However, a person with less money would not have the same opportunity, since they can only afford to buy exactly what they need, when they need it. In the long run, they end up spending more money on the same items.
So it is important for those who have enough to help needy households break this cycle by providing living essentials, so that they can use their savings for more than just surviving the day-to-day.
Laurence’s motivation is simple. He jokinging says he is “jiak ba bo dai ji zuo”, (Hokkien for “nothing to do after finishing eating”). The phrase is often used tongue-in-cheek to describe someone who is bored and trying to find something to occupy himself, but Laurence does it because he wants to.
Nevertheless, he hopes to eventually close Project Stable Staples, but he won’t do so while people are still turning to him for help.
In the meantime, Laurence says he will continue to do what he always has — staying close to the ground, and reacting to whatever happens.
“The nature of the group of people that I work with is that we try to run faster than everybody else,” he says.
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For those who want to start giving back to their community, his advice is simple — don’t rush into creating a new group, especially when others might already be doing the same work. Start looking for people who are already solving the problem you see, and find out how you can help them.
After all, the end goal is the same — to give back to the community around us.