IMPACT 0058: FOOD FOR THE HOMELESS
Madeleine Gan is an undergraduate at the University at Buffalo, Bachelors of Arts – Communications Program. She is one of the co-founders of Food for the Homeless, an initiative that aims to provide food to the homeless population of Singapore. To date they have provided 1,900 meals, groceries and different household equipment to six different homeless shelters.
Hi Madeleine! Tell us about yourself and your initiative.
I’m part of Food for the Homeless (FFTH), a ground-up initiative that assists the homeless in Singapore. Through fundraising efforts, we provide fresh meals for individuals residing in temporary shelters across Singapore.
Our Instagram account also acts as a platform for social media users to share stories about their experiences with the homeless, as a soft approach to inspire others to contribute where they can.
What inspired you to start FFTH?
Before starting FFTH, I volunteered for three years to walk the streets of Singapore in search of rough sleepers. We walked for about three to four hours each time, right into the wee hours of the morning.
When we met rough sleepers, our main goal was to befriend them to make them feel seen and heard. After forming a relationship with them, we tried to understand their situations before deciding if we could help them.
We referred them to the relevant authorities for assistance. We also provided them with care packages, which contained face masks, hand sanitisers, muffins or bread, and other essential items donated by volunteers.
Through helping the homeless for the past three years, I have realised that within our “crazy rich” city, many individuals fall through the cracks and are left alone, almost forgotten by society. This is despite the many schemes and initiatives that the government has put in place to empower the needy. Some of the intended beneficiaries unfortunately are legally unable to gain access to these avenues of help or don’t even know they exist.
During the 2020 circuit breaker, an increased number of rough sleepers sought assistance and transited into temporary shelters. This led to a shortage of food resources in the shelters. Seeing the urgent need for food in shelters, my friends and I decided to pull resources to assist our friends from the streets.
We initially wanted to raise funds for the homeless at the Christ the King Church shelter. Seeing that we were able to reach our goal in two hours of posting on our personal Instagram accounts, we decided to reach out to other organisations and homeless shelters in Singapore to see how we could help. Many responded with different needs.
As of June 2021, FFTH has been able to provide over 1,900 fresh meals, groceries and equipment to six homeless shelters in Singapore, impacting the lives of over 90 of our friends from the streets.
We have also since recruited eight volunteers who assist with daily meal deliveries, and have partnered with other ground-up initiatives such as Soap Cycling Singapore, Project Hills and DayCares SG on various initiatives to better serve the community.
What challenges and setbacks did you face while starting FFTH?
One of the biggest struggles is reminding myself to recognise that while my intentions may be in the right place, I should first ask and acknowledge our friends from the street’s opinions and feelings. I have ideas of what help they need, but they may not always agree.
There have definitely been instances where my friends and I have tried to push for things without checking if our friends from the streets were comfortable with it. This led to upsetting them and caused them many inconveniences.
Now, instead of forcing my stereotypes onto them, I believe in respecting their opinions and not forcing them to do anything they don’t want to.
Another struggle would be learning to manage time between FFTH, school and other commitments. At times, it has been difficult for me to commit my Friday nights to go for our regular walkabouts on the streets or creating content for our FFTH social media, especially if it’s during my exam or assignment periods.
What motivates you to carry on?
The people I get to interact with, both my friends and the rough sleepers. Through our weekly conversations, people who were once strangers end up friends whom we can laugh and joke with.
One memorable experience that gives me motivation would be the story of Mr M. Mr M was a rough sleeper whom my friends and I walked past on our first outreach walk. He was disheveled and disorientated.
We talked to him and gave him a packet drink, a bun and a post-it note with the various helplines available. That was the one and only time we saw him.
One year later, a new volunteer joined us for an outreach walk to the streets. He turned out to be Mr M, the man from the first outreach walk that my friends and I went for — just that this time, he was neatly groomed!
Mr M had sought assistance, and took the year to turn his life around. He got off the streets and into a rental flat, and now sustains himself through employment.
What are some things that you would like people to know about the cause you support?
Like any other human beings out there, the homeless deserve dignity and respect. Though we might think we know better at times, they have their own needs and wants that might not align with ours. It is paramount to listen to their needs and give them the respect that they deserve.
Another fact that surprises many people is that many rough sleepers on the streets do have a physical house. Unfortunately, due to different situations and circumstances, many are not able to return to their homes, leaving them to sleep on the streets.
Society tends to label the homeless lazy. However, this is not the case. From our experiences, many have jobs and work tirelessly to make ends meet for themselves. If they are unemployed, most are keen to look for odd jobs too.