SINGAPORE - When chef Vally Amay Satippan had diabetes and her left leg was amputated, she quit her job at Seletar army camp and sank into depression.
The 63-year-old keeps herself busy with cooking and visits to a temple, in the hope that these activities would help lift her spirits.
Madam Vally, who lives alone in a one-room flat in Lengkok Bahru, gets food rations from charity organisation Food from the Heart.
The divorcee, who is estranged from her 35-year-old son and 34-year-old daughter who are married and live on their own, is among beneficiaries from 81 agencies getting support from this year's President's Challenge fund-raising campaign.
The campaign is focusing on supporting lower-income families that have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Halimah Yacob announced this on Wednesday morning (Feb 23) when she launched the President's Challenge 2022 at the newly opened Food from the Heart Community Shop @ Lengkok Bahru, which is funded by the campaign.
Madam Vally, along with other Food from the Heart beneficiaries who live in the vicinity, got to shop for free at the charity's third shop-for-free-concept minimart at the launch event. The other two outlets are in Boon Lay and Mountbatten.
Madam Halimah said she heard about the challenges faced by lower-income families during the pandemic when she visited family service centres last year.
"Over the past two years, lower-income families have been the most susceptible to the negative impacts of the pandemic, such as job displacement and social isolation," she added.
The President noted that during the pandemic, lower-income families with young children have been the hardest-hit group, with 20 per cent of households in rental flats having someone who lost a job - twice as high as the overall average for all households.
"The family unit is the bedrock of society and the first line of support we turn to in times of hardship," she said. "To build a resilient society, we must support families so we can nurture individuals who can contribute meaningfully and lead fulfilling lives."
Madam Halimah said the President's Challenge 2022 will help lower-income families in three key ways: by empowering lower-income families, by caring for families that may need additional support in meeting immediate needs and by rallying the community to render help.
She cited an initiative by Lutheran Community Care Services, which aims to help lower-income families achieve upward social mobility. Through a three-year programme supported by the Empowering for Life Fund (ELF), the organisation works with families to accumulate savings and sustain employment and school attendance.
The ELF was set up under the President's Challenge in 2018 to support programmes that empower vulnerable individuals through skills upgrading, capacity building and employment.
Madam Halimah also cited how the Food from the Heart community shops enable beneficiaries to choose what they want, compared with being given food rations.
"Beneficiaries are accorded the dignity of choice, and with this assurance of food assistance, they can focus their energy towards improving their circumstances post-pandemic."
She commended the charity's Project Belanja!, which works with coffee shop hawkers to provide cooked food to beneficiaries. They can use the QR code on their beneficiary cards to redeem 15 meals a month. "This is useful because some may not be able to cook, especially the elderly who are unwell."
Madam Vally, who uses a wheelchair, was happy when the community shop opened at the foot of her block.
"I used to go two blocks away to collect food rations, but now I can come here and take my time to choose the food," she said, adding that she prefers cooking her own meals to buying food from outside.
"I'll come here very often," said Madam Vally, who got spinach, eggs, butter and canned sardine, among other food items, from the shop. It is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9.30am to 12.30pm.
Households can redeem 12 items a month using a beneficiary card at the community shop. They include grocery staples such as rice and cooking oil, and fresh produce such as eggs, mushrooms and leafy vegetables.
The fresh produce is supplied by four local farms, then aggregated and curated by horticultural entertainment company Gardenasia, before being delivered to Food from the Heart's minimarts.
The store at Lengkok Bahru, which is also supported by the National Council of Social Service's Care and Share Matching Grant, serves over 500 needy households and is projected to benefit more than 1,000 families.
The charity's chief executive Sim Bee Hia said that unlike food handouts, the shop-for-free minimarts allow needy families to plan what, when and how much they want to buy. It can also track the consumption habits of beneficiaries to tailor its stocks to "give right", she added.
Food from the Heart will open its fourth community shop in the second quarter this year at Sumang Lane in Punggol West.
The public can donate food items in the 24/7 food drop, or at the Food from the Heart website.
Other beneficiaries of the President's Challenge this year include cancer charity Ain Society, non-profit organisation Association of Muslim Professionals and youth social service agency CampusImpact.
Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.