Student voice 1 Jun 2021

Siddh's story: volunteering at a soup kitchen

By Siddh S, grade 9
Photograph by CIS Communications

With its aged corridors brimming with hardworking volunteers, mountains of fresh goods and its lively atmosphere, the Willing Hearts soup kitchen is an inspirational sight to those who visit. We had received a newsletter from the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC) calling for volunteers to spend a meaningful weekend morning at the charity’s soup kitchen. My father promptly reached out to the club to secure us a spot on the roster.

Starting the day early
I woke up on an early Saturday morning at around 7.30am, excitement practically flowing through my veins. This wasn’t my first encounter with community service, as IB students are encouraged to complete three service tasks every year through the Service as Action curriculum. With this in mind, I already had a taste of the humbling gratitude that service cultivates in those who encounter it.

After a swift Grab ride to Singapore's Kembangan sub-zone, we entered the Willing Hearts screening station, where we conversed with other club members and volunteers.

I had the privilege of meeting SCC’s President, Mr Zoher Motiwalla, who spoke to us about his past experiences volunteering at the soup kitchen. He shared an interesting anecdote about how when he volunteered previously for the food delivery schedules, they would drive around to the heartlands of Singapore — going to the areas where the underprivileged and elderly folks who need help stay. During these delivery visits, they would leave the food bags on hooks outside the HDB blocks. This anecdote got me thinking about how even when we serve, we must ensure the dignity of the recipients of our service.

Getting down to work
With that thought in my mind, we entered the facility. After a temperature screening and disinfectant spray, my family and I were admitted into the mess hall where we were requested to wear aprons, gloves, and hairnets before handling the food. We were efficiently escorted by Willing Hearts staff to our respective stations, and instructed to prepare and pack styrofoam containers with hot food (steamed tofu, rice, eggs and stewed vegetables). Despite our unfamiliarity with handling food in this manner, the more experienced volunteers introduced us to their efficient packing system in the form of an assembly line.

Each individual was responsible for handling one portion of the meal, which streamlined the process. Roughly 180 fully-packed boxes later, our shift was complete and it was time for us to switch tasks. My mother and I wandered the halls for a few minutes, eventually stumbling across a large group of volunteers assembled around six tables. Each of them had a different vegetable in their hands, either peeling, chopping or organising them. My curiosity piqued, I eagerly approached the table, picked up a tool and a potato, and got down to work.

United by a common creed
An hour passed sitting at the peeling table. I had chopped and peeled hundreds of vegetables (sweet potatoes, bitter gourd, regular potatoes and mushrooms), while simultaneously conversing with the other volunteers. There were people from all walks of life working together in harmony — it seemed like our common goal unified us as a single creed, which was a very refreshing sight. One of the fondest memories of my time at the kitchen was my encounter with Uncle Lawrence, a Singaporean gentleman in his seventies who dedicated a large portion of his life to serving the Willing Hearts community.

Despite his occasional scoldings, his selfless presence shone through the room, commanding the respect of the volunteers. He regaled us with light (albeit unintentional) entertainment as we chopped away, addressing a 50-year old volunteer as “young man” and spouting statistics like "I’m 1.5 times older than you”.

Insights and understanding
Interactions like these were what made this experience so unforgettable. Each task played a pivotal role, as the vegetables we chopped would later be used as ingredients in the evening preparations. I also gained some much-needed perspective. My work in the kitchens and chopping stations gave me a taste of the hardworking migrant worker's daily routine, which is jam-packed with tireless labour. I was especially glad to find out that the meals I prepared would feed said workers, along with the disabled, low-income families, and others in need of hot, healthy and fresh meals.

I am lucky to have this experience, which helped to broaden my perspectives. By taking time out of my day to work hard in the kitchens, I managed to ignite a flame of gratitude in my 'willing heart', as I used my own two hands to give back to society. I learned that at the end of the day, our deeds unite us more than our individual titles. Just like when it storms and rains, it falls on all of us the same.