SINGAPORE- Some low-income families can expect to benefit from a community initiative at the foot of a Housing Board block, with part of a bomb shelter being repurposed into a minimart for them in the Bukit Batok area.
The minimart, which also doubles as one-stop integrated community service centre, was launched on Saturday (Sept 11).
The centre, also known as Jampacked @ Bukit Batok, is a joint project between Jamiyah Singapore and the Bukit Batok grassroots organisations (GROs).
Mr Murali Pillai, MP for Bukit Batok SMC, said the idea for this initiative came up about 1½ years ago, after Jamiyah Singapore president Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar approached him.
Speaking at Block 188 Bukit Batok West Avenue 6 during the centre's opening, Mr Murali said this initiative shows the importance of community-run programmes.
"With a food bank, we can involve the entire community," he said. "The entire community can come together, particularly in times like the pandemic. It is when people help each other with the government's help, that's when the bond becomes even stronger."
The items in the minimart are from Jamiyah Singapore, the Bukit Batok GROs and corporate partners, with donations from the public as well.
Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was also at the opening, said this initiative shows a spirit of multi-racialism, giving, compassion and volunteering.
He said: "This is a journey, but it's a journey that is powered by emotion, empathy and a desire to make sure that no one ever feels left out in Singapore."
Beneficiaries will be provided with $50 in credits every month to spend at the minimart. There are about 400 low-income families in Bukit Batok SMC, and about 50 of them are already beneficiaries of Jamiyah.
The minimart will be open from 2pm to 8pm from Mondays to Fridays, and from 9am to 1pm on Saturdays, and will be for the beneficiaries only.
This credit system would allow Jamiyah to track which items are popular, to help manage stock availability, said Dr Hasbi.
He added that Jamiyah is open to using the concept in other constituencies as well, but factors such as the needs of residents in the area would have to be considered.
Without the minimart, beneficiaries would have to collect a pre-packed food bundle every two months at West Coast or at Jamiyah's food bank in MacPherson.
One of them is Madam Saliana Salleh, who had to make a one-hour trip to West Coast once every two months to collect the package. She lives in a three-room flat with her husband and 10 of her children, about a 15-minute walk from the minimart.
Apart from the convenience, the 40-year-old housewife also enjoys the freedom of choosing her own food.
She said: "In the food pack, there were some canned food items that I was not used to eating, so I had to share them with my brother. But now I can choose what I want to get for my family."
There is also space within the minimart for community programmes, such as advisory sessions with Jamiyah's staff.
Madam Salleh said: "It would be nice for me and the kids to make friends and even have gatherings with other families as well."