Coronavirus: Social service agencies to get $3,000 from ComChest to cope with outbreak-related expenses

The SG United Portal was launched during a volunteer food-packing session by charity group Food From The Heart at its warehouse in Joo Seng Road. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Social service agencies will each be getting $3,000 from the Community Chest to help them cope with coronavirus-related expenses.

These expenses include disinfection, cleaning, buying more personal protective equipment and safety equipment, and business continuity measures.

ComChest is the fund-raising arm of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

More than 470 social service agencies who are members of NCSS are eligible for the monetary help. This means that over $1.4 million has been set aside for these agencies, who will have to apply for the $3,000 support.

The agencies have to claim the one-time $3,000 support by May 8. After applying for it, they will get the funds in three working days. They then have to declare what the funds were used for within three months of receiving them.

The financial assistance was announced by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Thursday (Feb 20) as he launched a website, called the SG United portal, for the public to find out how they can contribute to causes in the fight against the coronavirus disease, or Covid-19 as it is also known.

Mr Lee launched the website during a volunteer food-packing session by charity group Food From The Heart at its warehouse in Joo Seng Road.

Charities like Food From The Heart and Boys' Town said the $3,000 assistance was timely.

"The money will help to defray our costs," said Ms Sim Bee Hia, chief executive officer of Food From The Heart.

She noted that with the coronavirus situation, cleaning is now part and parcel of the charity's daily work daily and this adds to existing costs.

"While we encourage volunteers to wash their hands in the toilet, many would still use hand sanitisers," said Ms Sim. "We also have to stock up on masks, especially for our drivers as they travel out to more than 250 points monthly."

Said Dr Roland Yeow, executive director of Boys' Town, which provides services like shelter and education for young people: "The support is most welcomed especially during these challenging times. We hope to see a longer term support as well, as resources are needed to ensure we are operationally ready to respond to future crises."

Thursday's launch of the SG United portal will also help those affected by the virus.

The website provides Singaporeans with a platform to find volunteering and donation opportunities related to Covid-19, as well as for the public to initiate their own ground-up responses.

SG United is also Singapore's rallying call for a "whole-of-society effort" to combat the coronavirus outbreak, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday.

Through the portal - developed by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre - those looking to volunteer will be redirected to a webpage for coronavirus related initiatives.

The SG United site also lists various funds that the public can donate to. For instance, they can donate cash to the The Courage Fund, which was set up 17 years ago during Severe acute respiratory syndrome period. The fund is administered by NCSS and ComChest.

Donations in kind can be made on for items requested by various charities and community initiatives such as masks, anti-bacterial wet wipes and gloves.

The portal also links to various initiatives for people to show appreciation to front-line workers amid the outbreak, such as those working in healthcare. This includes tribute pages on The Straits Times and OurHeroesSG.

Last Wednesday, Mr Lee said that the Government will be creating a centralised platform so that various ground-up initiatives can more meaningfully address areas where help is needed during the coronavirus outbreak.

The SG United portal is the answer and its development was inspired by the strong community response to the coronavirus outbreak and aims to rally Singaporeans to overcome this challenge, said Mr Lee on Thursday.

"Singaporeans have asked us how do they know where to go and what can they do to play a part. This portal will give better signposting to the needs on the ground so that giving becomes more meaningful and impactful," he said.

This comes at a time when some charities are facing difficulties during the outbreak, such as not having sufficient volunteers, which affects the delivery of their services.

For instance, at Food From The Heart, nine in 10 volunteers in February pulled out due to fears over the virus, prompting the charity to make an emergency call for volunteers last Monday.

Twenty-two volunteering sessions were also cancelled from last Monday to Feb 29, after corporations and schools pulled out.

"We have always been reaching out on our own social media platforms. Now with the SG United portal, it will help us to reach out to more people, including people who do not know us," said Food From The Heart's Ms Sim.

"And when you share stories and words of encouragement, it will make a lot of difference to us and to our volunteers and this will push us further."

The portal will be live during the period of the coronavirus and archived after that.

The public can also check the SG United Telegram channel for live updates. Those interested in volunteering can also use the SG Cares app.

For those interested in starting their own initiatives, they can download the SG United logo from the portal and refer to the guidelines on how it should be used.

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