Public donated over $1 million to Mind The Gap Fund for poor families hit by pandemic

Beneficiaries of the Mind The Gap fund typically received between $100 and $500 a month for up to six months. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GIVE.ASIA

SINGAPORE - A total of 767 families have received financial aid from the $1.1 million the public donated to a fund to help Singaporeans badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mind The Gap, a coalition of social service agencies and ground-up community groups formed in April last year to disburse the Mind The Gap Fund, provided an update on Tuesday (May 18).

The groups came together to form a coalition after The Straits Times (ST) last year reported how lives for many poor families became even tougher because of job losses or wage cuts as a result of the pandemic.

Within a day of the story's publication, over 100 readers contacted ST wanting to donate cash and other items to these families. Mind The Gap was formed to administer and disburse the funds raised.

The coalition comprises eight organisations, such as Aware, Beyond Social Services and Methodist Welfare Services.

They also reached out to families served by another 19 community groups, such as Prisons Fellowship Singapore, Kampung Kakis and the T Project, to reach out to more people in need.

Among its objectives, Mind The Gap aims to make it easier and faster for applicants to receive aid.

A report by the National University of Singapore's Social Service Research Centre, which was asked to document the funds disbursement process, said: "Despite the availability of various forms of (Government) assistance, there were still many families who were either ineligible or found that the existing assistance was inadequate to meet their needs.

"Some of them also had urgent needs that needed to be met quickly."

These urgent needs included money for food, public transport and medical treatment.

Beneficiaries of the Mind The Gap fund typically received between $100 and $500 a month for up to six months, a spokesman for the coalition said.

They could also apply for emergency assistance, where they would get a one-off sum of between $100 and $500.

The beneficiaries are from low-income families and are of varying age groups. They include a 55-year-old, who wants to be known only as Mus, who received $400 a month for six months last year from the Mind The Gap Fund.

This was after the father of four lost his $1,600-a-month job as a cleaner in a pub which had to close during the circuit breaker.

He is the sole breadwinner and the family had no savings to fall back on.

After he lost his job, Mus did odd jobs, such as fogging foreign workers' dormitories, to put food on the table but the income was irregular and insufficient.

He heard of the fund and applied. Aside from financial aid, Beyond Social Services gave his family supermarket vouchers, among other help extended.

Mus said his family are also receiving financial aid from the Government's ComCare scheme, although he declined to reveal the sum.

Mus, who lives in a one-room rental flat, said: "At least we can survive (with all the aid given). Many of my neighbours have also lost their jobs due to Covid-19.

"Everyone I ask (for a job from) said there are no vacancies."

Mus returned to work for his old company in December last year.

But with Singapore entering Phase 2 Heightened Alert, with dining in food outlets banned, his boss asked him to stop work again.

Mind the Gap made it a point to extend aid to marginalised groups as well, such as migrants spouses and the transgender community, groups that may find it hard to seek help through formal channels for various reasons.

These include language barriers or because they are foreigners, among other reasons.

There were also applicants who did not seek Government aid as they could not produce supporting documents needed.

The Social Service Research Centre report said: "They felt stressed by application processes that required them to justify their past decisions and show proof of their neediness."

Hence, the coalition decided to adopt the "radical forgiveness" approach, where they trusted what the applicants shared and prioritised helping those who faced challenges receiving support from other sources.

The coalition did not ask for additional supporting documents beyond what was necessary, except when it suspected fraud.

A 58-year-old grandmother, who wanted to be known as Nasha, received $500 a month from the Mind The Gap fund for two months last year.

The Singaporean divorcee was living in Johor Baru with her grandson as they could not afford housing in Singapore.

Nasha, who is estranged from her two children, has not been working since 2019 after she lost her job as a caregiver in Singapore.

When the borders closed last year, her grandson, now 18, could not commute to his secondary school here. The pair managed to return to Singapore in July last year.

Social workers from REACH Community Services gave her food rations and referred her to the Mind The Gap Fund.

Nasha said she also received $800 a month for six months from the Government's ComCare financial aid scheme.

At the start of the year (2021), she also found a job caring for the elderly which pays her $1,700 a month and life is now better for the pair, she said.

She was also able to buy a two room flat from the Housing Board using her Central Provident Fund savings.

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