2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards: Food from the heart: Singaporean feeds the poor, needy

By Patricia Esteves

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Tony Tay

MANILA, Philippines — Singaporean Tony Tay had a hard life growing up. Abandoned by his father at the age of five, he and his mother slept on the streets and barely had food. His mother worked odd jobs, but she still couldn’t feed and sustain a brood of four.

Tony and a sister were put in the care of an orphanage, while two other sisters were put up for adoption.

At 12 years old, Tony went back to the streets, fending for himself. In a first-world and wealthy country like Singapore, some 10 percent of the country’s population of 5.7 million live in poverty and Tony was one of them. But Tony did not want to remain poor. By sheer determination and tenacity, Tony worked and persevered until he prospered and became successful.

Hard work and perseverance were Tony’s tools to succeed. Nobody will help you but yourself, he used to think.

But that mindset changed when he attended his mother’s funeral. At 57 years old, Tony had an epiphany when he saw throngs of people, mostly poor, at his mother’s wake. They spoke about her kindness and generosity. Unknown to Tony, his mother had devoted her life doing charity work with the Canossian sisters, even though she had difficulties of her own.

His mother’s selflessness inspired Tony to do his share for the poor. And the first thing he did was feed the poor, just like what his mother did.

Tony and his wife Mary first collected unsold bread and vegetables from the market and brought these to the Canossian convent to be given to the poor. He also sought the support of his friends and together, they cooked at his home, delivering packed meals to the poor and elderly.

Feeding the poor gave new meaning to his life and deepened his faith in God, and thus started Tony’s “one hot meal revolution.”

In 2003,Tony organized “Willing Hearts,” a fully volunteer-based, non-profit organization that distributes hot, packed meals everyday to the poor. The group’s beneficiaries include the abandoned elderly and persons with disabilities, the sick, the children of single parents, low income families and migrant workers.

From distributing three hundred meals daily, Willing Hearts now prepares 6,000 meals every day, delivered to 40 distribution points in Singapore.

Starting with just eleven volunteers in 2003, they now have some 300 regular volunteers, operating 365 days a year in a facility in a public community center.

He never thought that Willing Hearts would grow so big and credits God and all the volunteers for supporting his advocacy.

“I never thought that our work would grow so big. There were no big plans when we started. There are no big plans now and no big plans for the future. Just one plan: God’s plan,” Tony told the the audience during the awarding ceremonies of the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Thursday.

He thanked God, his mother for being the model and spirit behind his group, his wife for being the pillar of support in his journey and all the donors and volunteers who believed and supported him since day one.

“Willing Hearts is a way of being part of one family and one village. We are just sharing, sharing all that we have in life to make a better society,” he added.

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