Store in Mountbatten HDB estate opens, where needy can get free groceries

Beneficiary Lai Siew Keng (left) with a staff member at a new community shop set up by charity Food from the Heart on Feb 8, 2020.
Beneficiary Lai Siew Keng (left) with a staff member at a new community shop set up by charity Food from the Heart on Feb 8, 2020.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Even as supplies fly off the shelves at supermarkets across the island, one store in Mountbatten remained well stocked with provisions on Saturday morning (Feb 8) - despite patrons having to pay nothing for their purchases.

Located at Block 13 Old Airport Road, the store is in fact a new community shop set up by charity Food from the Heart, where the needy can get their food.

Carrying only donated goods on its shelves, the store opened on Saturday and is expected to benefit 500 needy households from the Mountbatten and MacPherson neighbourhoods.

Currently, beneficiaries collect pre-packed hampers of donated food from social service centres. They cannot choose the items they receive.

But at the store, which is the first of its kind here, beneficiaries can choose up to 12 items a month, "purchasing" them by scanning their beneficiary cards at the counter of the store, which is manned by volunteers.

This system will also allow the charity to collect data on dietary preferences of its beneficiaries under a year-long study, targeted at developing a smarter food donation system.

Members of the public seeking to donate food can also drop their food items off in a food drop box at the store, rather than having to go to the charity's warehouse.

A sign outside the store tells passers-by what kind of food items are needed, allowing them to donate more appropriately and efficiently.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who was at the store's opening ceremony, noted that beneficiaries come from different backgrounds, with varying dietary preferences and restrictions.

As it is not possible to customise food packs for every beneficiary, the old system of delivering hampers sometimes results in them receiving items they cannot consume.

 
 

In some cases, he said, noodles and cooking oil have also been donated to elderly who are unable to cook, resulting in it going to waste.

"The community shop resolves some of these problems (as) beneficiaries can collect what they need, when they need them," said Mr Lim.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who was also at the opening ceremony, added that having a choice in itself granted dignity to the needy.

"Being able to select what they want is an intangible and valuable gift. Beyond the food item, you give residents a choice. I think that's very powerful," said Mr Lee.

One beneficiary who enjoys her new ability to choose is Madam Lai Siew Keng, 85.

The retiree said that in the past, she had received items in donation packs that were not to her liking.

"Some of them were not very nice to eat, including certain brands I didn't like," she said.

On Saturday, she selected six items, including brown rice, milo, canned pineapples and baked beans, and said she intended to come back again to get more in the future.

"I'm very happy that I can choose my things now," she said, as she proudly showed her purchases to her friends.

Another of the store's first patrons was Mr Gunasegaran S., 50, who came with his eight-year-old daughter Durashini in tow.


Mr Gunasegaran S. and his daughter Durashini at the shop. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The cleaner, who makes about $720 a month and has two other children, said that he usually returns certain donated food items such as instant noodles that he feels are unhealthy for his children.

"This (store) is very helpful for people in need... It's better that I get to choose, sometimes you can't (consume) everything," he said.

Mr Gunasegaran, who works seven days a week, added that the store was a good opportunity for him to bring his children out of the house.

Durashini said that she had enjoyed the experience of going to the store with her father.

"I like biscuits," she added shyly.

 
 

The store's launch went ahead despite Singapore's response level to the coronavirus outbreak being raised to orange just the evening prior.

Temperature taking and mandatory sanitising of hands for all guests were a few of the measures in place to keep the virus at bay.

Food from the Heart's chief executive officer, Ms Sim Bee Hia, said: "Life has to go on. We cannot deprive the beneficiaries of their food because of this (virus)."