SINGAPORE - Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin has praised the actions of a netizen who highlighted the plight of an elderly man who was too poor to buy food for himself.
Mr Tan, in a Facebook post at noon on Wednesday (Oct 28), said he had received a number of e-mails asking if he could help the old man, after Facebook user Evan Poh detailed his poignant and ultimately heartwarming encounter with the 83-year-old "uncle" last Friday.
Mr poh shared that he was in Ang Mo Kio Central that night when he spotted the uncle, who had a "strange despairing look", and approached him to ask if he could help.
The uncle then asked Mr Poh if he could spare him some money to buy food. While initially skeptical, Mr Poh took him to a nearby coffeeshop and bought him a bowl of fishball soup and iced milo.
It was there that Mr Poh learnt that the uncle was caring for his wife at home and had to resort to begging for meals and money from members of the public as he did not want to be a burden to his son, who earns only $1,000 a month.
Mr Poh eventually gave the uncle some money and reflected on how "it was probably the most meaningful amount of money I've spent in a long, long time".
Mr Poh, whose post went viral with nearly 6,000 shares, was widely lauded by his fellow netizens.
The uncle's version of events, however, was disputed in a report by Chinese newspaper Shinmin Daily News on Wednesday. The paper had interviewed the uncle at his home, where he admitted he was a habitual gambler who works at his relative's jewellery shop.
Having squandered away his monthly earnings of more than $1,000, he took to the streets to ask for money as he did not want to eat the food prepared by his wife, who is vegetarian.
In an update on its Facebook page on Wednesday evening, the Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF) said its social service office at Ang Mo Kio was aware of the uncle.
"We are glad to assure the public that he and his family are fine, and are financially stable. They (the social service centre) are in touch with the family and are ready to support and assist where needed," MSF added.
Mr Tan said he had found the outpouring of concern for the uncle, as well as Mr Poh's actions, "heartwarming".
"Truth is, it is difficult for members of the public to discern if cases are genuine or not. But if we do see instances where individuals need help, please please reach out and do what you can, and find out what details you are able to gather so that we can formally check and assist," he wrote.
"I believe that we should always try, even if we err on the side of being generous... you never know how that small action could mean so much."
He also urged members of the public aware of people who require help to contact the MSF on Facebook or approach the nearest social service office. The locations of the offices can be found on the MSF website.