Needy residents in Boon Lay can get provisions for free at new charity-run community shop

Instead of receiving standard food packages, beneficiaries visit the shop to select what they need.
Instead of receiving standard food packages, beneficiaries visit the shop to select what they need.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - With the opening of Community Shop @ Boon Lay on Wednesday (March 24), needy families in the area now have the chance to shop for food items for free.

Located at Block 176 Boon Lay Drive, the small minimart is operated by charity organisation Food from the Heart (FFTH) and supported by OCBC Bank.

The Community Shops operate on a shop-for-free concept. Instead of receiving standard food packages, beneficiaries visit the shop to select what they need.

Their beneficiary card allows them to redeem up to 12 items a month from a range of food staples including canned food, bread spreads, biscuits, oil and condiments.

The store now serves 350 needy households and is projected to reach 1,000 by year end. It is the second of its kind, the first being Community Shop @ Mountbatten, which opened in February last year.

The store was officially opened on Wednesday by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services and Integration, and Mr Eric Chua, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Mr Lee said that it "improves food matching, better meets residents' needs, and also helps coordinate charity food distribution better and to reduce food wastage".

Both the Boon Lay and Mountbatten outlets operate a 24/7 food drop to receive food donations from the public.

The store's concept also empowers families to choose the items they prefer at the time they need it, Mr Lee added.

Preserving dignity and freedom of choice is a key feature of the Community Shops, with FFTH's survey of its Mountbatten beneficiaries showing that 98 per cent of respondents prefer the shop-for-free concept over food packs or meal coupons, with 92 per cent giving "freedom to choose what I need" as the top reason for their preference.

The charity's chief executive Sim Bee Hia said that giving beneficiaries the ability to choose "changes the equilibrium of giving and receiving - there is no 'hand-me-down feeling' usually associated with beneficiaries".

The shop-for-free concept also ensures better allocation of food items as beneficiaries know their own needs best.

There is no cookie-cutter solution for feeding the needy, said Ms Koh Ching Ching, OCBC's head of group brand and communications. "For instance, those living alone may not be motivated to cook, whereas those with health conditions like diabetes should avoid consuming too many carbohydrates."

A beneficiary, Mr Ahmad Maricar, 82, collected eight food items at the opening, including sardines, milk and cheese.

Standard food packs sometimes include things he has no use for, such as light sauce and instant noodles, said Mr Ahmad, a supervisor at Cold Storage.

"I prefer to choose the items myself, because I can take things that I will use. The shop has plenty of useful items to choose from, and I can even select the brands."