IN TIMES of family crisis - a death, an accident or illness - everyone needs a first responder.
Help is often available, but not always fast enough. This "service gap" prompted the establishment, in 2006, of the emergency relief-focused Compassion Fund.
It was created by the people behind the Mainly I Love Kids (Milk) Fund - a charity that helps disadvantaged youth locally and overseas. Now independent, the fund gives immediate assistance to low-income families who have experienced sudden misfortune, caused by the incapacitation or loss of the breadwinner in the family.
"Sometimes families aren't sure where to go," said the charity's case worker, Ms Madhavi Manickavasagam, of how they were very much like first responders.
But financial aid is not all they offer. Their role encompasses crisis counselling as well as referrals to family service centres, community development councils and other resources and schemes.
The fund has helped more than 300 families and disbursed around $500,000, which comes mainly from private donations, as well as from Milk. Often, between $500 and $800 a month is given to families in need, for three to six months.
The majority of referrals come from primary and secondary school counsellors who notice family troubles. Early intervention is critical, said Ms Manickavasagam, because "we don't want it to become a chronic issue, like loans, or kids dropping out of school".
One recent recipient of help from the Compassion Fund described the relief that it brought her family. The woman, who wanted to be known only as Madam Tan, was in a panic when her taxi driver husband had a heart attack in September this year.
"I was worried about how we would survive. His is the only income, and we have four boys," she said, speaking of her sons aged six, seven, nine and 19.
The Compassion Fund got in touch with Madam Tan, 45, through a school counsellor and is now providing $800 each month for six months to cover household expenditure.
The fund also referred her to the Fei Yue Family Service Centre to obtain pocket money for her school-going children.
"It eased my burden," said Madam Tan, who also had to deal with sick children and the death of her own father at around the same time.
She said she couldn't be at his bedside when he died because she had to be with her husband after his heart attack.
She is now taking care of her husband as he recovers from surgery, and she hopes that things will return to normal.
On average, the fund receives about 10 to 20 referrals each month, but they believe awareness is still an issue and that they could reach out to even more people.
Said Ms Manickavasagam: "We have compassion for people in crisis. It's not just about financial aid, but to show there's community support for families in trouble, who have no other resources."
For more information, go to www.compassionfund.sg