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Charities, volunteers, restaurants help lonely and low-income seniors usher in Chinese New Year

SINGAPORE – Ever since his mother passed away 28 years ago, Mr Ler Geck Lam, 66, has had no family or friends to share a reunion dinner with, and he feels lonely most days.

Seniors, many of whom live alone in the Kampong Glam area, had Chinese New Year high tea at the ParkRoyal on Beach Road as part of the Festive Cheers programme held with Central Singapore CDC on Wednesday (Jan 22).

Seniors, many of whom live alone in the Kampong Glam area, had Chinese New Year high tea at the ParkRoyal on Beach Road as part of the Festive Cheers programme held with Central Singapore CDC on Wednesday (Jan 22).

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SINGAPORE – Ever since his mother passed away 28 years ago, Mr Ler Geck Lam, 66, has had no family or friends to share a reunion dinner with, and he feels lonely most days.

But on Wednesday (Jan 22), he was all smiles as he tossed yusheng, played bingo, tried his hand at calligraphy and tucked into a six-course meal alongside 100 other seniors at a Chinese New Year high tea in ParkRoyal on Beach Road.

Organised by Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant and the Central Singapore Community Development Council, the high tea is just one of a number of charity events bringing festive cheer to destitute and lonely seniors during the CNY period.

Lions Befrienders volunteer Ms Marilyn Choo, 51, who is arranging a lunch for 43 seniors at Aljunied Crescent on Sunday next week (Feb 2), said she would be foregoing time with her family that day, but that this sacrifice was worthwhile.

She and her volunteer team regularly visit almost 50 seniors in Aljunied every Sunday, helping them to read letters, sort out meals and keeping them company.

“Sundays are usually a time to spend with our families, but I would rather commit time to bring love and concern to these lonely seniors. I can have time with my loved ones on any other day,” said Ms Choo, a part-time saleswoman who lives with her mother and her sister’s family.

Another volunteer, Mr Chee Tuck Hong, 59, from the Heartwarmers Volunteer Group, was up at 6am on Saturday with his team, delivering breakfasts of roti prata to around 160 seniors at a home for the destitute in Marsiling, on the first day of Chinese New Year.

Serving breakfast to these seniors on Saturdays has been a regular affair for Mr Chee since 2016, and he said that the festive holidays would not deter him from continuing to do so.

“We don’t want the elderly to feel deprived because of Chinese New Year. We might have to adjust our plans for the day because of this, but this (breakfast) makes a difference to these seniors,” said Mr Chee, who works as a data protection consultant.

Seniors having Yusheng as part of Chinese New Year high tea at the ParkRoyal on Beach Road as part of the Festive Cheers programme held with Central Singapore CDC on Wednesday (Jan 22). Photo: Yong Jun Yuan/TODAY

“Life is not always perfect, and there are always other people who are less fortunate than us and need our help,” he said.

Ms Foo Ci En, a 20-year-old polytechnic student, also delivered breakfast to the seniors with Mr Chee on Saturday.

“On Chinese New Year, everyone is very busy, and these seniors don’t have anyone else to celebrate with,” she said.

“I didn’t want to let them feel neglected, as though this festive season isn’t for them too. I wanted to make them feel like they are not outside of our society,” she added.

Over at Lions Befrienders’ Mei Ling senior activity centre, other volunteers have not let their advanced years stop them from aiding those in need during the holiday period.

Madam Aw Gee Hong and Mdm Siew Phoi Chee, both 83, are older than some of the 20 seniors they brought to Queensway Secondary School to celebrate Chinese New Year’s eve with students on Friday.

Despite being peers with the seniors at the centre, Mdm Aw and Mdm Siew still see themselves as people in a position to support them.

“This makes us very happy. We like to do it,” said Mdm Aw in Mandarin. She lives in Bukit Panjang, but frequently travels to Mei Ling Street to volunteer at the senior activity centre there.

Mdm Siew said in Mandarin: “We ourselves are getting old already, but we can still walk. Some people here cannot even go downstairs from their homes.”

The volunteering pair also conducted activities and served food to 55 elderly folks on Thursday, at the Mei Ling senior activity centre’s Chinese New Year party, which was packed with karaoke, a buffet lunch spread, games and a lion dance performance.

Chairman of Lions Befrienders Mr Anthony Tay said: “With Chinese New Year widely regarded as a time of year that's best spent with family and friends, it can be an especially lonely period for some seniors who don't have any close loved ones around.”

One of the attending seniors, Mdm Chew Ah Mai, 89, lives by herself and usually celebrates the Lunar New Year with her daughter and two grandchildren, whom she rarely gets the opportunity to spend time with, she said.

Mdm Chew said she wished she could enjoy the festive period together with more people.

“Without the centre, my life would be lonely and boring,” she said in Mandarin.

Mr Yang Yan Qi (right), 38, with fellow Si Chuan Dou Hua volunteers performing for seniors at Central Singapore CDC’s Chinese New Year high tea at the ParkRoyal on Beach Road on Wednesday (Jan 22). Photo: Yong Jun Yuan/TODAY

At the high tea event on Wednesday, Mayor of Singapore’s Central District Ms Denise Phua told TODAY Online that it was important to support lonely or less fortunate seniors like Mr Ler, even as Singapore progresses and its overall pace of life quickens.

“Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant is a great role model of not forgetting the community and serving them through action,” she said.

This year’s high tea was the ninth consecutive annual Chinese New Year charity event by Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant and Central Singapore CDC.

Mr Ler, who has been living alone for eight years after his younger brother was admitted to a nursing home, said in Mandarin: “I am extremely thankful for today. I haven’t had anything to be happy about for the last 28 years.”

“Today, I got the chance to celebrate with other people. Everyone was laughing. Everyone was happy.”

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