Time to tuck in and share

Reunion lunch for elderly folk who live alone

The eve of Chinese New Year was a time of celebration for 156 elderly residents of Bukit Merah View, 125 members of the Tan clan in Upper Changi as well as 18 cleaners and support workers at StHilda's Secondary in Tampines. The Straits Times reports.

MADAM Choon Keng Chan, 99, got out of bed extra early at 6am yesterday, excited about the reunion lunch she would be having with her "family" at the open space next to the Bukit Merah View Food Centre.

Her "family" is an extended one, comprising 155 of her elderly neighbours, most of whom live alone in one- and two-room rental flats in Bukit Merah View.

Tanglin-Cairnhill Citizens Consultative Committee had put together a reunion lunch for elderly people who live alone to gather and celebrate with one another.

Wearing a red floral blouse that she reserves for special occasions, Madam Choon sipped her favourite F&N orange soft drink as she caught up with her close friends.

"I am so happy to see everybody together," she said in Cantonese.

It has been nine years since she last had a reunion dinner with her family. Her husband and two sons have died, and she is estranged from her daughter. Since then, her annual reunion dinner has been coffee, bread and biscuits.

When grassroots leader Joseph Lee visited some of the elderly people in the area after a reunion dinner with his own family six years ago, he saw many cooped up in their flats with little festive fare. He rounded up some community volunteers the following year and raised $8,000 to provide a reunion lunch.

Every year since then, elderly residents who have no family reunion dinner of their own are invited to the gathering.

"Our volunteers are really something," said Mr Lee, 59, a former residents' committee chairman. "They got up early to get the drinks from the market, put up the decorations and will be serving the food to the elderly."

Over lunch, Madam Choon and her good friend of 40 years, Madam Yap Ah Tai, 93, dished food onto each other's plate.

They live a block away from each other, and usually meet for coffee and exercise every day at a seniors activity centre. In their close-knit community, volunteers call in to give them food and help to clean their homes.

"I miss my family, but when you are surrounded with people, you don't think so much," said Madam Choon. "I treasure these times of getting together with friends and neighbours who have become my family."

jantai@sph.com.sg