Automated vending machine dispenses dried food, hot meals for needy in Zhenghua

The vending machines are part of a new initiative to supplement existing food insecurity programmes. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE -Mr Jacky Tham Koh Seng, 73, and his wife Madam Mary Ng Sew Noy, 71, got more than their usual round of exercise and activities at the Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre near their home in Senja Road on Monday (Dec 21) morning.

With the help of volunteers, they also redeemed coffee and packets of cooked food from an automated food bank vending machine.

The vending machines are part of a new initiative launched on Monday by local organisations to supplement existing food insecurity programmes for households and seniors who live in rental blocks or one- to two-room studio apartments around Senja Road and the Zhenghua district.

Eligible residents will get a card giving them $50 in credits per month from non-profit group The Food Bank Singapore, which they can use to redeem dried or cooked food from three vending machines located in Senja Road.

Founded in 2012, The Food Bank Singapore serves 300,000 people through its network of 370 non-governmental organisations which seek to alleviate food insecurity in Singapore.

The cooked food packets, valued at three credits, are prepared by an external caterer and flash frozen for hygiene purposes.

Residents can either heat the food packet in a microwave near the machines or take it home to thaw later.

The dried foodstuff, valued at two credits, are collected by The Food Bank from donors, which include supermarkets and schools.

Mr Edward Chia Bing Hui, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah's Zhenghua ward, said he heard through the grapevine that The Food Bank was going to roll out more automated vending machines, following a pilot in 2019.

Residents can either heat the food packet in a microwave near the machines or take it home to thaw later. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

But they faced challenges in finding appropriate locations "within view of people and... with wiring and power points", according to co-founder Nichol Ng, 42.

Mr Chia reached out to Ms Ng to ask if the machines could be placed in Zhenghua.

They then spoke to Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre, which agreed to house the machines near its centre and provide volunteers to restock the supply of dried goods and assist seniors in using the machines.

Zhenghua Citizens' Consultative Committee Community (CCC) also pitched in to coordinate with other organisations.

Zhenghua Constituency Office has sent more than 500 letters to eligible households so far.

This pilot will run until Dec 31 next year, with a review by the organisations after that.

Mr Chia said the review will look at the redemption rate of the monthly $50 credit.

"It is a lot of effort by different organisations. Our whole objective is to serve our resource-low families... and we want this to be fully utilised by our residents," he added.

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