Food support: Need to tackle duplication of efforts

The charity food workgroup will develop a database of food support beneficiaries to improve coordination.
The charity food workgroup will develop a database of food support beneficiaries to improve coordination.PHOTO: THE FOOD BANK SINGAPORE

The food support sector needs to address the duplication of support and ensure needs are properly met, said experts.

Tackling these issues will result in resources being better allocated and support reaching more households in need.

"During the circuit breaker period, when we went house to house delivering meals, we saw that some already had food hung on the door," said The Food Bank Singapore's co-founder Nichol Ng.

It turned out that a few kind-hearted members of the public had decided to help those in need. "I applaud these people, but I genuinely feel there can be less wastage," said Ms Ng.

The Government has also taken steps to address the issue.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has convened a charity-food work group to bring together charities and other stakeholders to address the issue of duplication.

The work group was formed at the end of last year to address the issues of food waste and distribution inefficiencies.

An MSF spokesman said: "A lack of coordination among multiple stakeholders could lead to duplication and food wastage in certain areas, while others remain underserved.

"A cross-sector approach is therefore needed to better coordinate food support."

The work group is developing a database of food support beneficiaries to improve coordination, and identify areas where food support is most needed.

It is also testing out the idea of having food support coordinators at selected towns who can bring together partners on the ground, better match demand and supply, streamline efforts and better channel groups towards those in need, the spokesman added.

Another issue is the need to provide food that suits the person's needs. For example, if the person does not have a stove or is not mobile enough to cook, uncooked food would not be useful. In other cases, beneficiaries may prefer to cook their own food to their own tastes, and reject cooked meals, resulting in wastage.

Madam Anita Maulana, 40, is a full-time caregiver to her husband, who was injured in a motorcycle accident two years ago. The couple have eight children.

Since her husband is diabetic, Madam Anita prefers to cook for her family. Every month, she collects a food pack from a community club, which includes items like brown rice, canned food, Milo and cornflakes.

During the circuit breaker period, she received some ready-to-eat meals from a food charity but they were not to her taste.

"I prefer receiving uncooked food to cooked food because sometimes my children won't eat the cooked food and it's wasted," said Madam Anita.

Food From The Heart chief executive Sim Bee Hia said the food support system needs to find out how it can provide more choices, and cater to different dietary requirements - vegetarian, halal and diabetic. A choice of uncooked and cooked food or a store-bought meal can also be options, she added.

There is a saying that beggars cannot be choosers, said Ms Sim, but in today's world, people should be given the dignity of choice.

Ms Ng said a food aid directory that compiles the different programmes available can also be helpful for those who want to know where to get help.

There also needs to be more trust and transparency, and better communication among food charities, she said. "Without us coming together, the problem of hunger will not be solved. So whether it's data sharing or other ways, it needs a collective effort."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2020, with the headline 'Food support: Need to tackle duplication of efforts'. Print Edition | Subscribe