By Judith Tan
THE number of schoolchildren asking for help to pay for things like a daily meal during recess time has ballooned.
In the first half of this year, 9,855 families have asked The Straits Times' School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) for help - 1,000 more than for the whole of last year.
Applications have continued to flood in - the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), which administers the fund, has estimated that the total number of those who will ask for help this year will hit 11,000.
As a result, the School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) aims to raise a record $5.7 million this year, up from last year's $4.4 million.
There is a hitch, however.
Donors, themselves hit by the effects of the economic downturn, are giving much less.
Said SPMF's organising chairman, Mr Peter Khoo: 'Some companies that used to give $50,000 are now giving $20,000.
'It is great that they are still giving despite the downturn, but that is a 60 per cent drop in donation.'
In the first six months of the year, only $1.6 million has been raised.
If donations continue at that rate, fund-raising would fall well short of the target by year-end, with only about $3.2 million collected.
However, Mr Khoo, who is vice-president of editorial projects and branding at Singapore Press Holdings, is confident that things will pick up.
'We experienced the same double whammy effect of more kids and less funds during the Sars downturn period. Yet we met our fund-raising target,' he said.
To boost donations, the SPMF is reaching out to new donors, and is organising better and more innovative fund-raisers, such as the ChildAid Concert at Resorts World Sentosa in December - the first event to be held at the integrated resort.
'The concert would give donors a chance not only to support needy children, but the arts,' said Mr Khoo.
Social workers contacted said the economic downturn has hit families hard.
Ms Tina Hung, the deputy chief executive officer of NCSS said there has been a jump in the number of families seeking help at the 36 Family Service Centres located islandwide.
These centres link applicants to the appropriate financial aid agencies.
'Most of them either faced retrenchment or had difficulties securing employment, resulting in further financial strains on the families in providing for their children's school-going needs,' she said.
Mr Jumadi Supardi was one such person.
He lost his job as a cleaner late last year and had to rely on his limited savings and loans from relatives to provide for his family of seven, including three school-going children, Nor Fazirah, 15, Mardiana, 12, and 10-year-old Nurulashikin. His wife, Madam Johara Karim, 40, told The Straits Times that the family sought help at the North East Community Development Council (CDC) in March.
'We were referred to the Covenant Family Service Centre in Hougang, near where we live, and the girls were put on the SPMF in April,' she said, adding that it was the first time the family had sought financial help for the girls.
Fortunately for the family, their plight did not last too long. Mr Jumadi found a job as a deliveryman in June.
Said Madam Johara: 'Now that we can cope financially, we took the girls off the fund, so that others who need it more can benefit.'
The SPMF gives needy primary and secondary school students $45 and $80 a month, respectively. The children use the money to pay for meals at school, bus fares, and for books and stationery.
Those who wish to donate can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
All donations are tax-deductible.
What qualifies you for pocket money fund
TO QUALIFY for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, a school-going child must be:
- a Singapore citizen or permanent resident
- a full-time student receiving formal education in any of the following institutions:
- a mainstream primary or secondary school
- a special education school or Vocational School for the Handicapped
- a religious school
- living in an HDB four-room flat or smaller
- from a family whose per capita household income is not more than $450.
The amount disbursed is:
- $45 a month for a primary school pupil
- $80 a month for a secondary school student
The fund is used to buy food at school, pay for bus fares, and for books and stationery.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.