SINGAPORE: Mr and Mrs Chun arrived at Block 494, Jurong West Street 41 at about 3am on Oct 11, ready for a regular day of dishing out youtiao (fried dough sticks), curry puffs and vegetarian mee siam.
But the couple, who ran a stall at an eating house there, was devastated to find out that their workplace had been destroyed in a fire that razed the market to the ground. Another coffeeshop nearby was also affected.
"In our hearts we were wishing that our stall wasn’t burnt. However, when we went in, we found out that although the front of our shop was okay, our kitchen was burnt beyond repair," said Mr Chun.
The couple's story is one of three highlighted by Stand Up for our Hawkers, an initiative launched on Friday (Oct 28) to assist those who have been affected by the blaze.
Started by Mr Wally Tham, who runs a production company, Stand Up for our Hawkers has one aim: To help stallholders get back on their feet.
The campaign falls under Stand Up for Singapore, a ground-up initiative which organises events from time to time to help make Singapore a more gracious place.
Mr Tham told Channel NewsAsia that the funds raised will go to all 22 cooked food stallholders who have been affected by the fire, and that the money collected will be managed by accounting firm BDO to ensure finances will be disbursed correctly.
"THIS IS A VERY TRAGIC EVENT FOR THEM"
For Mr Tham, the decision to start a ground-up campaign for these hawkers came after he realised the area affected was close to where his wife used to live. While there was a lot of talk online about how the suspect should be punished, Mr Tham quickly realised that there were a lot of people who needed help, and decided to step up.
However, he did not anticipate that meeting those affected by the fire would be an emotional experience.
"I wasn’t ready for the sadness they were holding. It struck me that this is a very tragic event for them," Mr Tham said. "What humbled me was the amount of dignity they have around their work."
The campaign focuses on the stall owners of the cooked food stalls, as Mr Tham feels that Singaporeans have an intrinsic connection with and a profound love for food.
"It’s almost like a public service, what these hawkers do for us - high-quality food at low prices. Surely if you want to keep enjoying that, then you want to look out for these folks," he said.
"A lot of the hawkers don’t have huge savings ... they can’t take a hit of three months without work, which is a high possibility," Mr Tham added.
"IT'S STILL VERY UNCERTAIN FOR US"
Mr and Mrs Chun told Mr Tham that there has been an outpouring of support since the fire.
"There were customers who called to ask if we were really doing okay as our children are still so young," Mr Chun said, adding that the area's Member of Parliament, Mr Ang Wei Neng, has offered assistance. The couple has also gone to the social service office to see if they are eligible for financial assistance.
According to the Housing and Development Board (HDB), all stallholders affected by the fire have been given S$500 by the Southwest CDC for immediate relief.
While they are grateful for the support given, stallholders still worry about their livelihood while they are out of work.
One of them is Madam Amphorn, who owns a Thai food stall at Block 493. She has just found a new place to do business, but is worried that there will be no customers.
"I wonder why someone would do something like that to hurt so many people. There are a lot of people who need help (now) and that makes it difficult for everyone to receive help. There's no way around it," she told Mr Tham.
Madam Amphorn used to run a Thai food stall at Block 493, Jurong West Street 41. (Photo: Stand Up for our Hawkers)
Before she reopens for business, Madam Amphorn has to purchase new equipment such as pots, pans and crockery.
"I have been looking around for second-hand equipment, not like what I did with my first shop, where everything I bought was new. Buying second-hand equipment is cheaper, it may not last as long, but for now it's okay," she said.
In their interview with Stand Up for our Hawkers, Mr Chun acknowledged that they have been very fortunate, as their stall had not been badly damaged. However, as both he and his wife work at the same stall, they immediately worried about their livelihood as the coffeeshop would likely only reopen in three or four months' time.
"This fire has not only destroyed the stall but also the morale of many stall owners," Mr Chun shared.
"Right now, me and my wife will have to find our own jobs; even so, it wouldn’t be able to cover our household expenditure. We both aren’t young anymore, we don’t have any educational qualifications or other skills," he said, adding that he would need between S$5,000 and S$10,000 to replace equipment needed for business to resume.
Mrs Chun also shared with Mr Tham that their eight-year-old has asked for her allowance to be cut, in light of the situation.
"I used give her S$2 for her pocket money ... However, today she said she will bring bread to school, and asked me to give her 50 cents instead. When I told her that she couldn't buy milk with 50 cents, she said she doesn't need milk - she will just have her bread," Mrs Chun said.
"I really wish we could go back to how we used to lead our lives."
While the fundraiser has set S$100,000 as its initial goal, Mr Tham hopes contributions can surpass S$220,000 - which would mean S$10,000 can be allocated to each hawker.
He said: "We’ve always said we love our hawker food; we’re so proud of it. Other than giving recognition and awards, as a community, we need to have their backs. For all the benefits we’ve had of having access to (cheap and good food), surely we could set some cash aside and just give to this (cause).
"It doesn’t need to be huge sums, but if everyone played their part, we could restore an entire community of hawkers. It would be so awesome if we could do it."
Details of the fundraiser can be found here.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said stallholders were given S$500 in relief funds by HDB. HDB has clarified that the money was disbursed by Southwest CDC.