'We intend to stick it out with them': Volunteers write notes, send food to healthcare workers fighting COVID-19

'We intend to stick it out with them': Volunteers write notes, send food to healthcare workers fighting COVID-19

Pockets of people in the local community are reaching out to healthcare workers - on the frontline of Singapore's fight against the novel coronavirus - to offer their support in various ways. Melissa Goh reports.

SINGAPORE: Pockets of people in the local community are reaching out to healthcare workers - on the frontline of Singapore's fight against the novel coronavirus - to offer their support in various ways. 

These initiatives come amid reports of discrimination targeting certain groups of people in uniform and those under quarantine orders. 

Among the initiatives is #BraveHeartSG, led by Facebook crowdsourcing platform Stand Up For Singapore. 

READ: Eight new COVID-19 cases in Singapore, all linked to previous patients

Since 2012, the group has been using Facebook to crowdsource support in the form of donations and community service hours to help relieve public anxiety linked to specific events. 

For example, in 2017, the group helped raise nearly S$40,000 to help hawkers who had lost their stalls to a fire in Jurong West. 

Stand Up For SG has also mobilised hundreds of volunteers to start conversations with members of the public on social issues, said a pioneer of the group, organisational development consultant Wally Tham. 

On Tuesday (Feb 11), the group introduced the social media hashtag #BraveHeartSG and invited people to write notes of encouragement for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. 

Such contributions would be photographed and uploaded onto social media using the hashtag. Stand Up For SG will then print the notes and send them to healthcare institutions.

READ: Coronavirus cases in Singapore - Trends, clusters and key numbers to watch

So far, four of such institutions - Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, National University Hospital (NUH), Ng Teng Fong Hospital and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) have come on board, said Mr Tham, adding the group is still in talks with other hospitals. 

Stand Up For SG is also working with businesses to make the initiative a success. HSBC is sponsoring snacks to be sent along with the notes. A company called PrintLab is helping defray some of the printing costs and most of the group's media collaterals are the work of an agency called Big Red Button. 

"Our general goal is to reach every healthcare professional in Singapore and this is where we're starting. We are referring to these notes as 'love notes' because it's Valentine's Day (on Friday), but this is not going to end after Valentine's Day. 

"We intend to stick it out with them until this virus is sorted," Mr Tham told CNA.

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Insta-haikuku #256 #braveheartSG

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To date, more than 1,000 contributions have come in. 

One of them is a Valentine's Day card by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, thanking the medical professionals for "looking after your patients day after day, especially during this COVID-19 outbreak".

They also include notes written by groups from schools like Crest Secondary School and Serangoon Secondary School, as well as non-profit organisations like Our Better World. 

Artists too, have chimed in, like poet Gwee Li Sui, who wrote a haiku.

"There are many drawings because kids love to draw. They're quite cute," said Mr Tham. 

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But he pointed out that while the notes help to encourage Singapore's healthcare workers, the initiative is ultimately aimed at addressing public anxiety. 

"Anxiety makes us have thoughts like 'there is not going to be enough food, so let's buy six trolleys of groceries', 'four masks are not enough' and 'this train is dangerous because someone here is wearing a medical uniform'. 

"This anxiety is what we need to address. It's okay to be anxious for your family but we need to find a more sustainable way forward. If we keep suspecting each other, we won't be able to tackle this problem," he said. 

BENTOS FOR HEALTHCARE WORKERS

Lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio was spurred to take action after coming across social media posts about how nurses and other workers fighting the novel coronavirus in Singapore were being snubbed because they could have come into contact with infected patients.  

“I read about how an ambulance driver was turned away by a stall owner when he went to buy lunch, and how nurses are shunned on the MRT and public buses. It made me heartsick,” she told CNA.

READ: "Not enough manpower to get food to people in need" - Food charities hit as COVID-19 measures ramped up

Her Hail our Healthcare Heroes initiative will be organising free bento lunch deliveries to SGH from Feb 17, and has inspired Singapore companies to do so for other hospitals.

On Wednesday, healthcare workers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and NUH received 400 bento boxes sponsored by property and investment firm Mapletree.

“The bentos are from our tenants like Orange Lantern and Swissbake, to give variety and not the usual foodcourt takeaways,” said the group’s chief corporate officer Wan Kwong Weng.

“We are happy to serve yummy food from our mall tenants to the frontline medical heroes. As this fight against the virus situation may be long-drawn, we hope to give cheer and support, and encourage everyone.”

Support for healthcare workers COVID-19 coronavirus
Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio (left) delivering Golden Duck snacks to healthcare workers. (Photo: Courtesy of Stefanie Yuen Thio) 

As a gesture of appreciation for the hospital workers, Ms Thio has also sent 2,000 packets of halal snacks to SGH, co-sponsored by her law firm TSMP Law Corporation and Golden Duck, which is known for their salted egg yolk snacks.

Far East Organisation told CNA it will be sending 200 packets of food to NUH and Tan Tock Seng Hospital each day from Feb 24 to Feb 28.

Comfort DelGro has also offered to work with sponsors to deliver meals to hospitals in the weeks ahead, and the transport company has committed S$10,000 in taxi vouchers to the Community Foundation’s Sayang Sayang fund.

SAYANG SAYANG FUND

The fund, which aims to raise S$500,000, will provide transport vouchers to healthcare workers in hospitals and polyclinics as well as give help to community partners supporting vulnerable communities such as seniors and families who are impacted by heightened precautionary measures, said the Community Foundation in a press release on Wednesday.

READ: Commentary - What to do with all these health rumours and forwarded messages in the time of COVID-19?

The foundation has received funding requests to cover additional manpower costs for home visits for needy seniors and to distribute food to needy families, but it will also adapt the use of the fund to evolving needs.

Donations to the fund have jumped to S$300,000, from S$84,000 on Wednesday, the foundation told CNA on Thursday. A public portal on Giving.sg collected more than S$65,000 as of Thursday evening.

Ms Thio, a Community Foundation board member, personally contributed S$25,000 to the fund. She said that the support she has received since she posted a call to action on social media has been “mind-blowing”.

“There was a pent-up desire on the part of ordinary Singaporeans to help,” she said. 

“But what would be an even better outcome is if the ordinary Singaporean, seeing medical staff being treated badly, would step up and call out the bad behaviour, or just tell the staffer how much their selfless service is appreciated.”

Taxis at SGH
Comfort taxis waiting in line at Singapore General Hospital amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo: ComfortDelGro)

ComfortDelGro’s senior vice-president for corporate communications Tammy Tan said that the company has also been conducting spot checks at hospital taxi stands to make sure that taxi drivers are not avoiding hospital workers in uniform. 

“We read with distress that hospital staff in uniform have been ostracised, not just by the public but by cabbies. We immediately conducted checks to ensure that none of our cabbies are guilty of such discriminatory behaviour,” she said. 

“Thus far, the statistics have been encouraging. The cater rate of our taxis at the hospitals has in fact gone up. We have also not received any complaints about cabbies turning away any medical staff in uniform.”

Members of the public who wish to support the Sayang Sayang fund can visit giving.sg or email contactus@cf.org.sg. All donations above S$50 are tax deductible.

Source: CNA/hs/hm(rw)

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