Let's do charity with the right attitude

Lawyer Dipa Swaminathan's collaboration with Starbucks to supply unsold food items to foreign workers is a praiseworthy act ("Foreign workers get to enjoy unsold Starbucks snacks"; Dec 6).

Her comment, "what better thing to do than to take perfectly good food destined for the bin and to give them a snack", reminded me of my own experiences.

In my nearly four decades of involvement in charity work, I must have ploughed through tonnes of garbage disguised as gifts.

I have sorted through literally thousands of pieces of torn and mouldy clothing, broken, smelly and worn shoes, and even used, filthy underwear discarded by people and dumped for charity.

This phenomenon is not unique to Singapore; mountains of thick winter clothes were dumped in Thailand for the 2004 tsunami victims.

In my nearly four decades of involvement in charity work, I must have ploughed through tonnes of garbage disguised as gifts... torn and mouldy clothing, broken, smelly and worn shoes, and even used, filthy underwear discarded by people and dumped for charity.

Following that same disaster, 4,000 tonnes of donated drugs arrived in Indonesia, well beyond local needs, that were labelled in foreign languages and close to expiration.

Even when there isn't a disaster, donations are raised by dubious organisations with questionable intentions.

Operators of these "charities" pocket the bulk of the monetary donations, but ship off items like unwanted fur coats to "needy women and children" in sub-Saharan Africa.

Let us not hide behind charity to assuage our guilt and rationalise our insatiable need for conspicuous consumption.

Michael Loh Toon Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2016, with the headline 'Let's do charity with the right attitude'. Print Edition | Subscribe