What warms your heart, brightens up your day and acts as the bittersweet all-cheering sun to dreary gloom and doom?
It is heartening, knowing that despite the evils, indifference and complete ignorance of the sheltered majority towards the less fortunate, there are bold individuals who possess the will to extend their spheres of influence. Creativity takes courage, and change, initiative. Poverty may be more widespread than ever, gaining ground even in traditionally rich countries, but empathy from equals, coupled with refreshing and impactful old traditions, can always warm heavy hearts.
An example, now famous through the extensive coverage in the form of mass media: the old Italian tradition called “Caffee Sospeso” (which can be translated into “Suspended Coffee”), is conceptually simple yet potentially effective. A customer pays for two coffees, even though he only takes one. The other will be “suspended”, remaining so until someone in need enters the cafe and has it, free-of-charge. This tradition gained popularity in Italy after World War II, when poverty was rampant.
In recent times, the waves of change have swirled again, back in full force. Australia and Singapore are excellent affirmations. As one of the poorest countries in Europe, Bulgaria has been particularly hard-hit by economic difficulties, prompting more than 150 cafes joining the project to date.
The UK is also another notable example. It was reported that not only have stores in cities such as London, Exter, Liverpool and Glasgow decided to join this meaningful initiative, but that they also have a Facebook page with a sizeable number of 20,000 followers to increase awareness. In fact, it has gone so far that the development of a smartphone app is on the horizon, thereby engaging and allowing people to identify the cafes who offer suspended coffees, all around the country. Worldwide coffee chain Starbucks has also hopped on the bandwagon, having expressed support by sponsoring coffee to charity organisation Oases and match the value of consumer’s contributions.
Since then, this movement has been washed up on the shores of sunny Singapore, with a rather gratifying twist. Singaporeans are reported to be the biggest spenders on food in Southeast Asia, and perhaps this passion has been translated. Some locals are offering service and adding stickers on their shops to attract notice that the “Chop Food For the Needy” campaign is being practised there. This idea thus involves people paying for extra rations of food at specific diners or hawker centres’ stalls, which would be later given to deserving people in need.
Imagine the needy, the ones cast aside to the back of our minds, being able to have a nice meal without scrimping. Imagine the million-watts smiles lit up on their tired faces. Imagine their gratitude and relief, but more importantly your satisfaction that you have made a difference to a complete stranger you won’t meet or receive any returned benefits from, not even a single heartfelt thank you, because you want to, and you can.
But then comes along the skeptics. The million-dollar question is raised. If you see such a stall while you are out one day, will you be willing to participate?
It has been argued by critics and citizens alike, that stalls may lull us into a false sense of security by seemingly advocating the cause, yet absorbing the cash, unbeknownst to us, and rejecting offering the food previously paid for. Another cause for concern is whether people will take advantage and request for suspended food even when they do not truly need them, hence depriving the real needy.
However, to quote Henry Ward Beecher,
“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.”
By letting the fear of deceit take control over us, we are falling prey to the doubt that prevents positive change. It is up to us to make the decision to trust the good in everyone. Even if there are a few black sheep that misuse the cause for their selfish gains, we should question ourselves if we stop extending our help to the innocent simply because of our unwillingness to tolerate the inconsiderate ones. Besides, the definition of the needy should not be fixated on the descriptions ranging from “disabled” to “old”. Anyone, so long as they prove themselves in need, should be granted help. Differences should be put aside, and the simple act of providing food, a necessity of life, should not have requirements to be met. That, is the beauty of loving and giving.
Should we really stoop to that level of paranoia and distrust that we stand divided? We are only as strong as a society as our weakest link. Living a life of comfort brings no satisfaction until we utilise the power and influence we possess to pull our counterparts up as well.
Sharon Kuah, 3 Hope