No airport transfers so limo drivers deliver meals to needy

Limousine driver Rahim Abu Bakar is touched by the kindness the beneficiaries have shown him when he delivers food to low-income households and reciprocates by buying fruit to go along with the food.
Limousine driver Rahim Abu Bakar is touched by the kindness the beneficiaries have shown him when he delivers food to low-income households and reciprocates by buying fruit to go along with the food.PHOTO: DBS BANK

For the past two months, airport transfer driver Rahim Abu Bakar has been chauffeuring unusual guests in his limousine: packaged meals.

In the morning, he loads between 25 and 50 packets of food into the black Mercedes E-Class, carefully stacking them into cardboard boxes to avoid spillage.

He then makes his rounds to migrant worker dormitories or rental flats, delivering the meals to beneficiaries of DBS Bank's Stronger Together Fund, an initiative by the bank to donate $2.5 million worth of food to vulnerable communities in Singapore.

Mr Rahim, 61, is one of 14 drivers from limousine service company Wolero who usually do airport transfers for wealth clients and members of the DBS Asia Treasures programme.

However, as the coronavirus pandemic halted overseas travel, his schedule of six to seven jobs a day fell to zero in March and his income dropped by more than 30 per cent.

Although he still received his base pay, the uncertainty unnerved him and his homemaker wife. Their three children are studying in polytechnics.

"Most days, I would wait on standby or keep asking the call centre if there are any jobs," he says.

These concerns did not go unnoticed by the head of DBS Asia Treasures (regional marketing) Adele Tan, who started thinking of ways to keep the drivers employed to sustain their livelihoods.

Initially, she arranged for them to be hired as temperature scanners at DBS branches, but this had to stop when the circuit breaker period began.

"When I learnt of the Stronger Together Fund, I thought, 'If we're providing meals, perhaps we can deliver them too'," says Ms Tan, 45.

Mr Rahim says he and his team were "very happy" when they heard her suggestion.

"When my manager called me, I said 'okay' right away," he says.

As a limo driver, he is usually dressed in a tailored suit. On April 29, his first day of delivering food, he still made an effort to look smart by wearing long pants, a collared shirt and black shoes.

Most migrant worker dormitories have drop-off points for food, but at rental flats, the drivers do door-to-door deliveries.

As some residents live alone and may feel lonely during this period, Mr Rahim says he will "be more friendly and chit-chat with them".

"Sometimes they are surprised to see the limo and joke that it is expensive to deliver food in a Mercedes," he says with a laugh.

He says he is touched by the kindness the beneficiaries have shown him. For example, some will save the plastic bags from the deliveries and return them in neatly folded triangles. And on a hot afternoon, an elderly woman gave him a bundle of tissue packets when she noticed that he was sweating.

Mr Rahim reciprocates in his own way, like buying fruit to go along with their food.

During Ramadan, he adjusted his delivery schedule so that Muslim beneficiaries could break their fast on time, while he himself would wait till he reached home after work.

Another driver, Mr Karuna Moorthi, 61, says some residents will offer him towels when it rains heavily or drinks if the weather is hot.

"Even though we don't speak the same language, some elderly residents will bow to say thank you," he adds. "It is very painful when I see them being so grateful for such a small service."

But for the chance to make a difference, however slight, Mr Moorthi says: "My heart is content."

To date, the airport transfer drivers have delivered around 110,000 meals over 1,900 trips, making up about 30 per cent of the more than 370,000 meals donated by DBS. Other deliveries are arranged by non-profit organisations The Food Bank Singapore and ItsRainingRaincoats, which DBS has partnered for its Stronger Together Fund.

All meals are bought from 23 local food and beverage companies which are clients of the bank.

DBS Bank head of group strategic marketing and communications Karen Ngui says: "Covid-19 continues to affect us and some more than others. As a key member of the community, we believe we need to play a part in supporting the hard-hit segments of society.

"Rahim and Moorthi's stories capture the essence of how we, as a community, can be stronger together and are testament to how everyone can make a difference in these trying times."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2020, with the headline 'No airport transfers so limo drivers deliver meals to needy'. Print Edition | Subscribe