To do something useful for once, the CarBuyer team grabbed a Volkswagen Golf and put it to a highly unusual test…
SINGAPORE — Charity may be good for the soul, but charity work can sometimes tire the body. In one specific way to volunteer, however, having the perfect car can help.
That’s something some members of the CarBuyer team found out after a morning spent helping out at Willing Hearts, the one charity that might be better suited to car owners and driving enthusiasts than any other.
We grabbed the keys to the Volkswagen Golf Highline 1.4 TSI, one of our favourite hatchbacks, and drove to Willing Hearts’ operation at Jalan Ubi one morning to see what we could do to help out.
The organisation has a straightforward mission: it prepares meals for the needy and delivers them. But what sounds simple can be arduous, especially since Willing Hearts serves more than 6,000 people every day, seven days a week.
That’s a dramatic rise from simple beginnings: Willing Hearts essentially started out when its founder, Tony Tay, said ‘yes’ to collecting unsold bread from a bakery and delivering it to a convent.
That was 15 years ago; today up to 250 volunteers work alongside a few full-time staff to prepare and distribute nearly 2.2 million meals a year, which go to the elderly, the disabled or chronically ill, the jobless and so on. There are all kinds of people who have a place to stay, but not enough to eat.
Mr Tay (above), a former businessman, is on his feet and in the kitchen at 4am every day. He says one reason he runs Willing Hearts is to compensate for a life spent squandering time — as examples of this he names drinking and going fishing. “I’ve wasted a lot of time, so why not do something to help others?” he says.
The straight-talking Mr Tay sees volunteer work as a way to confront hard truths about life, too. He encourages volunteers to bring their children along and witness the harshness of poverty, for example. It is, he suggests wryly, one way to make them understand the importance of school.
To him, delivering food to the needy is also one way to contemplate the frailty of old age that hits us all. “You can reflect on how, in the future, we might need the service of others,” he says. “What we can do today, maybe someone will do it for us when we retire.”
For volunteers, the daily work at Willing Hearts is best summed up as prep, pack, and provide.
Full-time staff do the actual cooking, but there’s an enormous amount of labour involved in getting an enormous amount of food into neat packages, and then taking it around the island.
That’s where CarBuyer and the Golf came in.
Willing Hearts is fairly informal about volunteering — many people simply turn up on a given day and are given something to do on the spot.
But drivers are especially needed on weekday mornings. Doing a full delivery run takes around three hours, but if you have less time you can simply ask for a shorter route with fewer stops.
You get a list of addresses, load up the car with food, and off you go. It’s simple enough for even a motoring writer to manage.
The food starts to go out at around 6:30am, which is roughly when we turned up in the Golf.
The first thing you’ll want in a car for volunteering is plenty of space. The Volkswagen Golf isn’t huge, but as the quintessential hatchback it’s not only decently roomy but versatile in terms of how its space can be used.
The deep boot floor allowed us to load plenty of food upright. As lightweights ourselves we were given a fairly light load of 83 food packets, we didn’t even have to fold the rear seatbacks down to fit all those meals in.
It’s not uncommon for drivers with larger cars to give out five times as many packets, but making use of the back seats would have enabled the Golf to carry more than 200 packets, by our reckoning.
Another useful feature? Satellite navigation. In fact, it’s vital. The food from Willing Hearts goes to the four corners of the island, and without a satnav system, tracking down the right block or house on every last lane and lorong for a drop-off would be daunting, to say the least.
A big screen makes all the difference. The 9.2-inch monitor of the Golf Highline’s Discover Pro navi system was a boon; the easy interface made keying in each address painless and quick, and the large, clear screen meant knowing exactly which way to go at all times.
Let’s just say that a morning spent trying to find address after address left us feeling a bit more sympathetic towards Grab drivers who crawl along an unfamiliar road, holding up traffic.
The Active Info Display that comes with the Golf Highline helps all the more, by making it that much easier for you to keep your eyes on the road while following the navi instructions.
Given that volunteering involves trawling one carpark after another, driving a car with easy manoeuvrability is another bonus. The Golf was designed with great visibility and light, precise steering to make it a breeze to drive in city traffic, and that’s the sort of stuff that lends itself well to a morning of zipping in and out of multi-storey carparks.
At the same time, a major food run at Willing Hearts can take three hours, so it’s much better to turn up in a car that offers long-distance comfort.
A number of factors contribute to this, and the Golf exemplifies them: firmly-padded seats contoured for endless kilometres on the German authobahn, for instance, or suspension that’s comfortable while providing secure roadholding and a feeling of safety.
But there are other worthwhile features to accompany a three-hour stint behind the wheel, such as Apple CarPlay, which lets the Discover Pro system connect seamlessly with an iPhone and make its podcasts readily available.
Podcasts are the long-distance driver’s best friend. At least, they are at CarBuyer. There’s only so much of each others’ company we can stand, after all.
And if you think about it, giving a morning to Willing Hearts means that you’ll effectively be donating fuel as well as time. Low fuel consumption, like the kind delivered by the Golf’s TSI engine and twin-clutch DSG gearbox, is worth having at the best of times, but if you’re traversing the island during rush hour traffic with food to deliver, it’s a bonus.
That might sound calculative, but if you’re going to put miles on a car to deliver food to the needy, why not think about doing it in a reasonably Earth-friendly car?
Mind you, after your first time helping at Willing Hearts, you’ll have plenty to think about anyway. It’s easy to grumble about the high cost of cars in Singapore, for one thing, but using it to take food to the needy is one way to make the price seem more worth paying, and to remember that being able to afford a car in the first place is a very lucky thing.
And as much as we enjoyed driving the Golf on our own food run, you can help out in any car and be just as welcome. “Just come, and deliver the food to people who require it, so that Singapore will be a better place,” says Mr Tay. What you need most to help out at Willing Hearts is right there in the organisation’s name.
|Want to volunteer at Willing Hearts? Here are simple tips from us newbies:
Bring someone along — one driver and one food runner/navigator makes the job more than twice as easy
Weekends are crowded — Saturdays and Sundays see the most volunteers, naturally. If you can turn up on weekday mornings, that would helpful; some weekdays there are no volunteer drivers at all.
Can’t drive? You can still help — There’s plenty of work to do in the kitchen involving prep work. If you can’t cook, you can wash pots and pans or help to pack food.
Want to chope a place? You can book a volunteer slot here — It’s a good way to find out of the kitchen is shorthanded. But even if it’s full on your chosen day you can just turn up. You’ll have something to do.
Can’t commit? Just show up when you like — The first volunteer slots open at 530am. The volunteer slots are listed a blocks of three hours, but think of your time in terms of an hour at a time. If you have to leave early, you can. It’s volunteer work, not military service.
If you’re too busy to donate time, you can still donate cash (they have electricity and water bills to pay, just like the rest of us). You can also drop off food. Find out more here.