​76,000 hot meals, countless snacks, desserts, care packs and greeting cards have been distributed to some 11,000 staff on SGH Campus. An unofficial team is behind the well-oiled machinery to get these gifts from the public to you, safely and on time, bundled with loving-kindness and energising positivity.

The first donor came knocking in early February, offering tetra pack drinks and supplements for our staff. Mumtaj Ibrahim, Senior Manager of Community Relations and a SARS veteran, had anticipated such offers of support and quickly swung into action. She sat down with the HR team from Work-Life to plan and gather resources to pack and distribute these goodies.

“During SARS, I saw how these gestures of support were vital in boosting staff morale, especially when healthcare workers were ostracised and stigmatised by some people. So I was determined to accept and facilitate these offers of goodwill in a coordinated manner, as a way to support our colleagues on the frontline and appreciate them,” said Mumtaj.

The trickle quickly became a deluge. “My phone was ringing non-stop, as many companies, schools, several ground-up initiatives and the public wanted to reach out to our staff to offer support in terms of gifts, cards and snacks. I remember one donor got hold of me at 11pm as he had already placed orders for Vitamin C to be delivered the following day,” she recalled.

Comfort food

The operations soon got trickier to manage when the public started to offer hot meals. Ms Gin Cheng Yam, Deputy Director, Patient Engagement in the Communications Department, was roped in to oversee the distribution of just the meals alone.

“Our first concern was food safety. Can you imagine teams of frontline staff falling sick from food poisoning, in the midst of managing a pandemic? So we quickly lay down rules and processes, such as requiring caterers to be NEA certified, and the ‘cook-prep’ and ‘consumed by’ timing clearly labelled,” said the former Deputy Director of Nursing.

How does the team decide who to give to?

“Many donors specified staff at Emergency Department or Isolation Wards, because they assume these are the frontliners. So we also educate them that the frontline includes other areas of the hospital, and suggest that they give more or allow us to decide who to give the food to. We made sure to include the staff from our service partners like ISS and Certis Cisco, too. In the end there was more than enough to go around, and we were even able to share the gifts with other institutions on SGH campus,” said Ms Gin.

“We were an impromptu unit, without a name. So we decided to call ourselves the SGH (Comms) COVID-19 Welfare Team,” said Ms Gin. “Food can be a great comforter, and a great connector for people. In a crisis, the public becomes emotionally and positively charged, wanting to do something to contribute. We are glad to be the enablers for them to meet this need,” said Ms Gin.

The operation was reinforced by more colleagues from Communications and the SGH Museum. While many of the donors drove up to drop off their gifts, some of the corporate sponsors sent items in such large quantities that MMD had to receive the deliveries at our warehouse at Block 8 instead.

Mr Muhammad Zulhelmy and Ms Brenda Ng efficiently distribute the lunch sets to the pre-assigned departments

The team with a heart

Community Relations Executive Muhammad Zulhelmy was only in his first month of employment with SGH when the entire operations kicked off. He quickly became one of the most popular colleagues on Campus as he went around bearing gifts for our staff.

“I was still learning and didn’t know my way around SGH when I first started working on this initiative,” shared Zul as he is known as, “I had no idea where to go, or who to speak to. Thankfully I received a lot of guidance from colleagues.  This situation allows me to extend support from the community to my frontline colleagues. I also get to meet lots of people and build relations with different departments. ”

Our staff were not the only ones who left lasting impressions on the team. Zul shared a memorable instance from his interactions with several donors.

 “I fondly remember an anonymous donor who had made a simple but impactful donation, some time in February 2020.”

The letter attached with the lozenges donated by an anonymous ex-patient is full of sincerity and love.

“His simple gesture really gave me a sense of what a lasting impression our staff have on our patients, and it galvanised me to do my best to make sure that all these gifts get to them quickly and safely.”

For Senior Associate Brenda Ng, taking up the new role was a whole new experience for someone as experienced as her.

“Working in my original role at the SGH Museum, I was desk-bound most of the time,” she shared, “I didn’t have to leave the confines of my little space much.”

“Now I interact with colleagues daily from different departments. Staff recognise me and greet me whenever I am running around on campus!”

“All this activity has also made me fitter. Now I easily clock about 10,000 steps daily, and even up to 20,000 steps on really busy days! ”

Staff at Ward 66 received their lunch bentos in time to power up before they resume their afternoon ‘battle’.

A little help can go a long way

Donations came in almost every size. Quantities could range from ten sets, to as many as 22,000. Whenever the size of the donation became too large for the team to handle, they were always able to count on Tan Yoke Chang, HR Assistant Manager, Work-Life Unit, and his team for additional support.

“We saw the Welfare Team starting to be overwhelmed from the high volume of incoming donations, so we stepped in to lend our manpower support, to ensure that all the orders could be received and stored properly for distribution,” shared Mr Tan, or “Yoke”, as he is affectionately called.

“The big challenge for the team was to coordinate the distributions to ensure that every staff can receive some goodies from the donors,” shared Yoke, “I’m glad we managed to accomplish that.”

Yoke leads his team from Work-Life to help distribute the gifts received, including these nicely crafted cards of encouragement.

Time to receive

Mumtaj shared touching stories of a few of the individual donors.

“A single mum, who is also a home-made baker, wanted to donate her cookies every week. In the end, we accepted a token five bottles to acknowledge her kind thoughts for us. Another was a former patient, a breast cancer survivor. She said SGH had saved her life and she is forever indebted to us. 

One Singaporean contacted me all the way from Norway. She rallied her friends to sponsor 100 boxes of dates for Muslim staff and the migrant worker patients in the wards for them to break fast, during the month of Ramadan. 

A ‘thumbs up’ to Zul who is always ready to receive incoming donations, including these afternoon desserts.

Time to give

Just as we have received, our staff also did much giving. A group of junior doctors started a campaign to donate their $600 payout from the government’s Solidarity Budget to the SGH Needy Patients Fund and other SGH causes.

Our nurses collected apparels and personal items for our migrant worker patients, whose clothing had to be discarded when they entered isolation upon testing positive for COVID-19.

And to celebrate Hari Raya Puasa with the migrant workers under our care in Community Care Facilities at the Expo, our Community Relations team successfully reached out to donors who gave 8,000 brand new sarongs, nail clippers,  carom and games sets for the migrant workers to spend their time meaningfully while recovering.

It’s very heartwarming to see the public and citizens overseas rallying around our staff and showing their appreciation and support in a tangible way.  We have received so much from the community and we are very grateful.  At the same time, we wanted to do our part to share this goodwill with the migrant workers who have contributed so much to Singapore,” added Mumtaj.

Giving makes us all richer.  

The food items are a pat on the shoulder to our staff, and they are grateful to the donors as well as our welfare team.

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