Facebook campaign helps 'chope' food for needy

Chope Food For The Needy has given a movement, which has taken Europe and the US by storm, a local twist.

Instead of giving money to cafes to "chope" - reserve - cups of coffee for the needy, people here can give cash to hawkers to reserve food for someone who cannot afford to pay.

The hawker will then pick the right person to give the food to.

The local initiative, which was launched on Facebook on Tuesday by vintage boutique owner Michelle Tan, has been getting some attention, with more than 4,000 likes.

But the idea has met with cynicism as well. "How can we be sure that the hawkers will really help those in need?" asked undergraduate Praveena Murlethran, 25. Comments on Facebook also raised doubts about hawkers who may choose to keep the money.

Ms Tan, 40, said that donors should approach only hawkers they know and trust.

"It should be someone you always see and will continue to see. You can start by just paying for an extra meal. To risk $10 for the chance that four people will be fed a proper meal is a risk worth taking," she said, estimating that some 30 people have told her they have tried out the scheme.

Donor Dora Yip, 37, who gave $10 to her "favourite kopi aunty" at the Telok Blangah Drive food centre yesterday, believes hawkers have a clearer understanding of who may need help most in the estate.

"I trust her to give the free beverages to the right people. I've been seeing her regularly since I moved into the estate in 2008 and we've built a friendly relationship over the years," said the communications consultant.

Fellow donor, theatre actress Pamela Oei, sees hawker centres as a good contact point to reach out to those who are less well-off.

"Hawkers who are there in the same spot day in and day out can identify that cleaner who has plain rice for lunch or the elderly lady who collects aluminium cans for a living," said Ms Oei, 41. "These are the individuals who deserve a free hot meal."

Hawker Leong Ying Onn, 45, who runs a vegetarian food stall in Owen Road, was surprised when a regular customer left a $10 bill on Tuesday.

"This is the first time I've encountered such an initiative. I'm glad to be a part of it," he said in Mandarin, adding that he is familiar with those in his neighbourhood who need help.

"There are a lot of elderly people living in rental flats nearby. When they line up at my stall, I'll tell them that the meal has been paid for," he said.

The original movement known as "caffe sospeso" or suspended coffee, began in the Italian municipality of Naples as a way to combat the poor economy. Patrons typically buy coffee in advance for needy folk.

There have also been calls to formalise the Singapore version. Suggestions include compiling a database of participating hawkers and stickers to identify such stalls.

But Ms Tan wants the movement to retain its "kampung spirit".

"People are inspired precisely because it is in their hands and they get to task a hawker of their choice, someone they are comfortable with, to carry out the good deed."

melodyz@sph.com.sg