Platoon Sergeant with a heart1SG (NS) Ralph Lim, who heads food charity Mummy Yummy, hopes to inspire more people to step up and help those in need.
//Story Koh Eng Beng
//Photos by Amos Chew & courtesy of Mummy Yummy & CFC (NS) Lim
From Monday to Friday, 1st Sergeant (1SG) (NS) Ralph Lim would usually be in camp training with his soldiers. Come weekend, he would go door-to-door, distributing free meals to the needy staying in rental flats. This was pretty much his life from 2019 to 2021.
1SG (NS) Ralph Lim, then an Army Regular, was volunteering with Mummy Yummy, a food charity that provides free vegetarian meals to underprivileged families.
Besides food distribution, he was also involved in befriending the beneficiaries.
As his responsibilities at the food charity grew, he called time on his military career to take on the role as the Head of Mummy Yummy last year.
"I was approached by the previous generation of leaders (of Mummy Yummy) in 2020 to take on the role," said 1SG (NS) Lim, a scout platoon sergeant. "I thought if I really wanted to help people, I should go all out."
The 27-year-old added that working in a charity is like an extension of what he had been doing as an Army Regular – serving the society.
Almost a 24/7 job
As the Head of the charity, 1SG (NS) Lim leads the operation of Mummy Yummy. He starts work at 7am and usually ends at 2am next morning.
"It's like an outfield exercise," he said of his long hours, with a laugh. "But the Army has trained me well to function with little rest."
Mummy Yummy operates a restaurant which doubles up as its central kitchen. 1SG (NS) Lin's work involves planning for the daily deliveries, and helping out with food preparation.
He also conducts house visits to check on their beneficiaries, and even walks the streets to look for destitute people who may need help.
Dedication to helping others
1SG (NS) Lim spares no effort when it comes to helping the needy. For example, during a house visit last year, he spent several hours patiently coaxing an elderly man, who had a bad fall, to go for surgery.
"Like many elderly, their thinking is very traditional. He and his wife don't believe in western medicine," he recalled.
For two weeks, he brought the elderly man's wife to visit him at the hospital everyday. He also lent her a listening ear when she called him in the wee hours of the morning, asking about her husband's condition.
"They were very touched," said 1SG (NS) Lim. "They asked me, why was I doing all these things for them when even their own children don't? I told them that I just like to help people."
Getting his soldiers to do good
When 1SG (NS) Lim first started volunteering with Mummy Yummy in 2019, he found the experience very meaningful, and asked his colleagues and Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) from 48th Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (48 SAR) to join him.
His "platoon" of volunteers grew steadily as word about his weekend volunteer work got around the battalion.
The good outcome, he said, was that his soldiers developed a stronger sense of empathy. Before joining him for volunteer work, many of them had not seen what life was like for the underprivileged, such as those who may be disabled or single mothers.
"After interacting with these underprivileged people, it kind of hit my boys because most of them grew up not having to worry about money or when their next meal will come," he said.
Sharing his experience, trooper Corporal First Class (CFC) (NS) Lim Cheng Zhi, 24, said: "I knew that there was poverty in Singapore but I did not realize that it was this much – some families with children are staying together in a single-room flat trying to get by."
About 50 of his soldiers continue to volunteer with Mummy Yummy today. Some even went the extra mile to help the beneficiaries, said 1SG (NS) Lim.
For example, when they encounter elderly folks who are compulsive hoarders, they would offer to clean up their flats.
For 1SG (NS) Lim, seeing his soldiers doing their part for the needy was gratifying. "If I can inspire one of my boys to become a better person when they complete their NS, I would have done my job as a commander."
Tapping on his Army experience
Running a non-profit organisation was a whole new ball game for 1SG (NS) Lim. But he was able to tap on the leadership experience and communication skills he picked up in the Army.
"My experiences have helped me to develop a better understanding of how to lead people, guide them, and come up with a system to keep our operation running smoothly," he said.
For example, he runs his network of volunteers like a well-oiled military organisation. During food distribution, seasoned volunteers will take on leadership roles like Level IC (In-Charge), Block IC, and Area IC.
These roles are like the equivalent of section commander, platoon sergeant, and company sergeant major, he explained.
Helping more people
Going forward, 1SG (NS) Lim wants Mummy Yummy to reach out to more people.
For example, it has started looking out for people staying in three-room flats, whose livelihoods have been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One huge challenge that they face is getting more volunteers to conduct outreach programmes during COVID-19. "We have had to cover the entire Singapore (to look for the vulnerable), so it's really not easy," he said.
But the hard work is all worth it, he stressed. "To be able to see the beneficiaries being so thankful and grateful for your help and support, the sense of satisfaction is very different from other jobs."