SINGAPORE - A decade-long tradition of reunion lunches for elderly residents living in Bukit Merah had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but 180 of the seniors still received a festive treat as bentos were distributed to them on Thursday morning (Feb 11).
Mr Ong Chong Beng, 79, was all smiles when he received the bento set and a tote bag with two containers of pineapple tarts and two oranges.
"I feel very happy receiving all these; I like eating Chinese New Year snacks," he said in Mandarin.
Mr Ong has lived in the block for over 30 years and would go for the reunion lunches, which began in 2010.
His favourite part of the lunches would be chatting and catching up with his neighbours.
"This year we can't gather because of Covid-19, so I'm looking forward to next year, hopefully we can all meet up together," he added.
The Henderson-Dawson Citizens' Consultative Committee (CCC) and Henderson-Dawson Integration and Nationalisation Champions (INC) started hosting the Chinese New Year Eve lunches for elderly residents who live alone.
However, safe distancing measures in place mean that a reunion lunch in a large group was not possible this year.
On Thursday, more than 20 volunteers from the Henderson-Dawson grassroots organisations along with grassroots adviser and Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira distributed bento sets that had fried chicken and fish, festive gifts and hongbao to them.
Ms Pereira said that the reunion lunches in past years were something that many of the elderly living alone looked forward to and enjoyed.
It was challenging, but the team, unable to organise a seated lunch like before, still wanted to do something for them, she added.
"To be honest, we cannot really replace the interactions that they can have with fellow neighbours and friends over the meal. But we have worked with sponsors and partners to make sure that our volunteers still deliver a bento of love, pineapple tarts and hongbao to these elderly," said Ms Pereira.
Henderson-Dawson INC chairman William Tan said: "I am heartened to see volunteers, young and old, local Singaporeans and new immigrants, coming forward to join us at this meaningful event to spread joy and happiness to the elderly.
"Apart from spending time with them, we also want to spread the value of volunteerism and encourage everyone to contribute towards a healthy and caring community."
One of the volunteers, Mr Naresh Narasimhan, 48, president at an industrial company, said: "We have been part of the community and joining hands with the team here every Chinese New Year to serve the elderly for the last four years."
He and his wife Sonali are Indian nationals and Singapore permanent residents who moved here in 2015.
Ms Sonali, 46, who is regional head at a compliance firm, added: "This year especially for the elderly, who are used to the yearly big reunion lunch, it's all the more lonely for them as they have been away from community activities."
"This way at least we let them know that people are thinking about them and we want to celebrate with them even if it's just for a few moments."