SINGAPORE - Mr Toh Kok Jin, 59, has been eating more healthily in the past month since he started cooking for himself more often.
He uses items he picks up for free at community minimart Store @ Woodlands, which opened its doors on July 5, and buys food less often from coffee shops near his rental flat, where he lives alone.
"The food I cook is less oily than the food sold outside, so it is better for me to come here and choose the things I need to cook my own meals," the coconut factory worker, who has high cholesterol and high blood pressure, said in Mandarin.
More than 120 residents have visited Store @ Woodlands, located at Block 852 Woodlands Street 83, to pick up food items and daily necessities since its opening.
They can select up to nine items of their choice for free every month under the initiative by the Woodlands branch of the PAP Community Foundation supported by community partners including the Woodlands Citizens' Consultative Committee and Residents' Networks.
On Sunday (Aug 1), Store @ Woodlands distributed its first batch of fresh vegetables - sourced from community gardens nearby and amounting to about 360kg.
Retiree Lejah Amat, 69, a Woodlands resident of 11 years, said: "I am thankful for the rations I received in previous years. But now I can even get cabbage and broccoli here.
"Having more choices is good because I can go to the supermarket less."
Speaking to The Straits Times at the minimart on Sunday, Ms Mariam Jaafar, an MP for Sembawang GRC, said the store aims to serve more than 150 low-income families.
"We have distributed food rations to residents in need over the years, thanks to donations from various partners," said Ms Mariam, who oversees the Woodlands ward.
"But some residents said the dried goods distributed to them may not be suited to their dietary requirements - especially if they have certain health conditions - or their preferences. So during our house visits, we sometimes see residents with stocks of unused and expired rations piled up in their homes.
"That is why we thought of a way for these residents to be able to choose the items they want, and from a wider range of options, so that they have that dignity of choice and can cook healthier meals too."
Through donations from the community and sponsors such as Prime Supermarket and Leong Hup Food, the minimart has stocked over 3,000 items since early July, said Ms Mariam, who quipped that Nutella spread was among the most popular items and recently went out of stock.
Besides foodstuff such as rice, cooking oil, oyster sauce and curry powder, the store also carries toiletries.
Chicken, which is stored in a refrigerator at the store, is also available.
"In the future, we hope for Store @ Woodlands to become more of a community space where we can hold cooking demonstrations to introduce healthier dishes to our residents, or teach kids budgeting skills through the store," said Ms Mariam.
The minimart is open every Monday evening from 7pm to 9pm, and on the last Sunday of each month, from 1pm to 3pm.
People can donate items for the store at Woodlands Community Club or their nearest residents' committee centres in Woodlands.
They can also make a monetary donation at this website, which goes towards stocking groceries at Store @ Woodlands. More than $18,000 of the $20,000 goal has been raised as at Sunday afternoon.
The article has been edited for clarity.