Monday, 10 February 2020

Store lets needy families choose the groceries they require

Store in Mountbatten HDB estate opens, where needy can get free groceries
Carrying only donated items, it is set to benefit 500 households in Mountbatten, MacPherson
By Timothy Goh, The Sunday Times, 9 Feb 2020

A store in Mountbatten estate which opened yesterday lets the needy choose the groceries they require, helping them regain agency and dignity.

Located at Block 13 Old Airport Road and set up by charity Food from the Heart, the store carries only donated goods on its shelves and is expected to benefit 500 needy households from the Mountbatten and MacPherson neighbourhoods.

Typically, beneficiaries collect pre-packed hampers of donated food from social service centres, and cannot choose the items they receive.

But at the new store, the first of its kind here, beneficiaries can choose up to 12 items a month, "purchasing" them by scanning their beneficiary cards at the counter, which is manned by volunteers.

This also lets the charity collect data on the dietary preferences of its beneficiaries, under a year-long study aimed at developing a smarter food donation system.

Members of the public seeking to donate can drop their food items in a food drop box at the store, rather than having to go to the charity's warehouse.

A sign outside the store tells passers-by what kind of food items are needed, allowing them to donate in a more targeted way.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, the MP for Mountbatten, who was at the store's opening ceremony, noted that beneficiaries often have varying dietary preferences and restrictions.

As it is not possible to customise food packs for each of them, the old system of pre-packed hampers sometimes results in some receiving items they cannot consume. In some cases, Mr Lim said, noodles and cooking oil have been donated to seniors who were unable to cook, resulting in wastage.

"The community shop resolves some of these problems (as) beneficiaries can collect what they need, when they need them," he said.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who was guest of honour at the launch, said having a choice in itself granted dignity to the needy. "Being able to select what they want is an intangible and valuable gift. Beyond the food item, you give residents a choice. I think that's very powerful," he said.

A beneficiary at the store yesterday was Mr Gunasegaran S., 50, who was with his eight-year-old daughter Durashini.

The cleaner, who makes about $720 a month and has two other children, said he usually returns certain donated food items such as instant noodles which he feels are unhealthy for his children.

"This (store) is very helpful for people in need... It's better that I get to choose, sometimes you can't (consume) everything," he said.

Mr Gunasegaran, who works seven days a week, added that visiting the store was a good opportunity for him to take his children out of the house. Durashini said she enjoyed the experience of going to the store with her father. "I like biscuits," she added shyly.

The store's launch went ahead despite Singapore raising its coronavirus outbreak response up a level to code orange on Friday.

Temperature taking and mandatory sanitising of hands for all guests were among the measures in place to keep the virus at bay.

Food from the Heart's chief executive Sim Bee Hia said: "Life has to go on. We cannot deprive the beneficiaries of their food because of this (virus)."


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