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'Mystery' food deliveries and help with grocery runs: Kampung spirit helps neighbours cope with circuit breaker

'Mystery' food deliveries and help with grocery runs: Kampung spirit helps neighbours cope with circuit breaker

These neighbours in a Punggol estate can't meet, but they have found other ways to be present for one another.

SINGAPORE: A group of neighbours in Punggol used to meet at one another's homes - but are now so near, yet so far, as social gatherings are not allowed under COVID-19 "circuit breaker" rules. 

That, however, has not stopped them from being there for one another. They are constantly in touch through WhatsApp, growing their bonds through food, even more so now.

“All of the neighbours said they have been getting more food this year compared to before. Almost every day, we get something from somebody. Maybe it’s to compensate for the fact that we cannot be together,” said Ms Juliana Johari.

At times, the residents receive “mystery deliveries”.

“Knock, knock. Open the door and there’s food outside, but nobody,” said another resident Madam Rozana Mohd Kassim, laughing.

Mdm Rozana's daughter also recalled an incident when a delivery service cancelled their order at the last minute, leaving them with no food to break their fast.

“We didn’t have food to eat during iftar, but one of the neighbours shared murtabak with us,” said Ms Raziela Rashid. The food was placed at their door in keeping with safe distancing measures.

READ: The estate in Punggol that is keeping the kampung spirit alive

Working from home also brought about unexpected emergencies for some. When Punggol resident Elise Phong needed to urgently print a document for work, she sought help from neighbours who managed to find someone from another block who had a printer.

"Even though I did not need to print the document eventually, their steadfastness in helping a neighbour in need really warms my heart," she said. 

READ: COVID-19: Social gatherings of any size in both private and public spaces prohibited under new Bill

The kampung spirit is not just apparent in one housing estate. Across Singapore, people have rallied around their family, friends, neighbours and even strangers to show support amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

At an estate in Jalan Tenteram in Whampoa, neighbours have been a source of emotional support. 

With the circuit breaker due to end on Jun 1, some of them have been discussing an eventual return to the office. 

“We are going to have a Zoom meeting to discuss what we are going to do," said Ms Buvenasvari Pragasam. "Some of our sleeping patterns have totally changed during this period. We need to start sleeping earlier, we need a plan."

She added that her neighbours have also made it a point to send reminders on when they could collect items such as masks distributed by the Government.

READ: Singapore to distribute improved reusable masks via vending machines, community centres from May 26

When the circuit breaker kicked in, five of them started ordering food together so that they pay just one delivery fee.

They have also been sharing cooking and baking tips.

“I can’t cook well, so my neighbour has been teaching me, and I have been teaching her how to bake. She wanted to bake once but didn’t have plain flour, so I gave it to her,” said Ms Buvenasvari.

One of them has a clear view of the queue outside a supermarket under the block of flats, so she advises the group on when it would take longer to get their shopping done. There are others who put that information on a Facebook group involving the wider estate.


At a private estate in East Coast, Ms Elizabeth Soh has been showing, and in return, experiencing the kindness of those who live on the same floor.

When she bakes cookies, she shares them with neighbours, and when they go on grocery runs, they collate the items needed, especially for an older couple who are less mobile.Good coffee from her neighbour helps Ms Elizabeth Soh get through rough days. (Photo: Elizabeth Soh)

She has also been receiving drinks from a neighbour who has a machine to make cafe-style coffee, a much-needed treat to keep her going through the rough days.

“Every time they hear me yelling at my kids, I get treats," said Ms Soh, who has two children aged six and one.

Neighbours have also been understanding. With her children unable to get much outdoor play during this period, she set up a do-it-yourself playground in the common area outside her home. Playtime could mean mess, with water and sand involved.

“My immediate neigbours don’t have children, but they are empathetic to what we are going through and they are okay with the playground there, as long as we clean up after,” she said.

On her part, Ms Soh has been hand-delivering gifts to close friends.

“It’s nice that we can put aside work, think about people and send them love. Usually, we are so caught up with our lives, we have no time to do such things,” she said.

Having understanding neighbours means Ms Elizabeth Soh was able to set up a DIY playground outside her home, in a common area. (Photo: Elizabeth Soh)


Sending food appears to be a popular way to show concern during this period. 

Ms Rani Dhaschainey cooked for friends, including two doctors, and delivered it to them.

“I feel that during this period, food is the easiest way to connect with loved ones. It doesn’t feel like we met, but it does make us feel closer, when we gift something physically,” she said.

Ms Rani Dhaschainey cooked vegetarian chicken rice for her friends and delivered the dish to them. (Photo: Rani Dhaschainey)

Help and support has come from complete strangers for some.

Mr Tyler Joo was worried for his hawker parents who own a drinks stall at Golden Mile Food Centre. Their main customers were office workers, and with most people now working from home, his parents’ takings have drastically reduced.

Mr Tyler Joo experienced the kindness of strangers when he appealed for help for his hawker parents who were struggling with a lack of business. (Photo: Tyler Joo)

He took to Facebook groups that focused on helping hawkers during the COVID-19 period to appeal for help. Within about a week, he had received overwhelming support. 

There are now more than 200 members in a WhatsApp group he set up, allowing them to order dishes like curry chicken noodles, lor mee and fish soup along with drinks like sugar cane and home-made barley. Every day, 20 orders are made on average. 

Customers are people in Sengkang and Punggol as Mr Joo lives in the area, making it easier for him to coordinate deliveries while juggling his full-time job.

“My parents and Golden Mile Food Centre hawkers are extremely grateful to Singaporeans’ support towards local hawkers,” Mr Joo said. 

Source: CNA/ja(gs)