The Saturday Squad: Never Too Old to Make a Difference
Every Saturday afternoon, the sound of music, the smell of delicious food and a smattering of various dialects waft through Lengkok Bahru neighbourhood.
It’s not your run-of-the-mill party, but a free weekly lunch for friends and neighbours in one of Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods. These gatherings act as both the draw and the glue that get the elderly to socialise and remind each other that they are not alone.
Yet another community-led effort but with a twist – to take care of your own. That’s what The Saturday Movement is about.
According to Raymond Khoo, founder of this initiative, the majority of the elderly living in the area are lonely. Aged 65 and above, mostly retired, some supported by their families, some barely managing on their own. Raymond and his team look out precisely for that.
Started in 2011, the non-profit organisation with over 100 volunteers distributes dry rations and food coupons. They manage to reach about 300 households weekly across eight blocks in the Lengkok Bahru neighbourhood.
About 500 people receive help from The Saturday Movement, with an additional 80 households hoping to get on the list as well. Each person will get eight coupons, and each coupon allows them to redeem a hot meal at The Saturday Movement’s community kitchen, which is a stone’s throw away for the residents. The kitchen, called S17 Community Kitchen, serves nasi padang, rice with an assortment of side dishes, with residents getting a choice of meat (beef, chicken or fish) and two sides of vegetables, which typically adds up to around SGD$7.00 (USD$4.50).
“I've seen the quality of free food that floats around in Singapore, I think it's mediocre.” For Raymond, that was the impetus to do better, give better. “If it’s something that we wouldn’t eat ourselves, we shouldn’t be giving it to others.”
Raymond made a promise both to himself and to the people of Lengkok Bahru – serving nasi padang that is delicious, which has them coming back for more.
The kitchen serves an estimated 4,000 free meals every month. The team also caters free lunches for the residents of Lengkok Bahru every Saturday and on special occasions like Christmas, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. Raymond believes in serving more than just meals – he creates a space for them to talk, laugh and eat a meal together – ingredients that are often not abundant when you are isolated.
Right now, The Saturday Movement is Raymond’s pet project with a majority of the funds coming out of his own pocket. There are the occasional one-time donations from organisations too. Clearly not an easy situation for him to manage.
“Funding is a major issue, we don’t have consistent funding.”
To support the next phase of operations, Raymond hopes to reach a stage where the initiative will be able to be more sustainable financially, to continue getting the elderly the support that they need.
To achieve that, Raymond believes that the solution comes in the form of corporate catering. “We are asking for organisations to come, to at least order once a month. It can be a bento, or we do a nice nasi ambeng and everything else.”
“That's all we're asking.”