Chope food for the needy

By Terry Xu

Screen grab of the CHOPE FOOD for the NEEDY fanpage

The story which inspired the suspended coffee movement started off in a travel blog, Accidental Tourist , the suspended coffee movement has gained popularity after a reemergence from sharing of the story via social media. This suspended coffee movement has made its way to Singapore in another form. A page named “CHOPE FOOD for the NEEDY – ‘Suspended Food Revolution’ to Pay It Forward” has localized this concept into a suspended food movement, to pay for food that stall owners can give to the needy based on their discretion.

In various interviews with the mainstream media, the page owner is revealed to be a Singaporean named Michelle Tan, who said that instead of paying $5 dollars for a latte, you pay for food that the hawker can give to the needy.

Despite just having started off two days ago on Tuesday, it has its fans swelled up to well over four thousands and still on the march to grow even larger.

In the posting at the fanpage, it explains how to go about joining in the movement.

Go to your favourite hawker & other like-minded, kind hawkers to PRE-PAY for eg. 1, 5 or 10 packets of food. Ask them to give this food out to needy folk whenever they see them.

Sounds simple? Yes it probably is, but the first step to approach hawkers for pre-pay food seems pretty awkward for some interested individuals. Which is why the page has come up with an explanatory post for the uninitiated.


Referring to the suggestions that stickers could be given so as to identify which are the participating stalls for the needy, Michelle explains that this is something which the movement seek to avoid.

“We have asked the hawker to make the judgement call as to who he will give out the food to. For this to work, he must do it under the radar. No one should be coming to him specifically. “

Because in the worst scenario of this movement, there will be people who make use of the goodwill and badgered the hawker for free food. Depriving those who are really in need of the food paid by others out of good will.

“The beauty of this system is there is in effect no need to get awareness out to the needy. We are harnessing the supply side of things, not the demand side – We are delegating the part of finding needy people to the hawkers who will have an idea of who’s needy in their area.” Said Michelle in one of the posting.

Some have also been cynical over the movement expressing that this is a scheme that would benefit hawkers from the advance payment. But as the owner of the page states, people joining in the movement should not pre-pay food to hawkers whom the person do not trust.

True enough that such a goodwill movement acts on good faith. Whether or not such a movement would gain further momentum or sizzle into thin air would depend on the joint actions of the three parties, the payer, the hawker and those who receive the food. Though there are bound to be people who seek to abuse good will but here is hoping that such an initiative can grow to a movement which every Singaporean can be proud of.

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Michelle Tan in her own words,

How should I broach this with the hawker?

Sample conversation:
Hi, Uncle. Can I order food in advance?
(Hand over the cash.)
My friends and I have decided to go to our favourite food-stalls and order food. Then if you see any poor people …those who cannot afford a proper meal … in the market or anywhere… you can give the food to them.
It is called “CHOPE FOOD for the Needy”.

(Go back the next week to see how things went. Repeat.)

Some people seem hesitant, worrying that it is hard to explain the concept to the hawkers. Don’t worry. It’s easy. They get it. The hawkers are close to the ground. They are in the area day in, day out and many have been there for decades. My bet is that all of them could reel off the names of 5 needy people from the area the moment you asked them to.

How will the needy know which stalls to approach?

The needy are not intended to approach any stalls – the hawkers are meant to make the judgment call on who are the needy and go forward to offer the meals to them. We are harnessing the supply side of things, not the demand side of things.

Database of stalls / Identifying Stickers – yea or nay

While there have been many calls for a database of, & stickers on, ‘participating stores’, I fear that this could lead to the stalls being badgered for free meals (whether by deserving folk or not-so-genuine people).
Stickers are a no-no. This is a “by the people for the people”, “it takes a village” initiative. It would detract from the simplicity and low-cost ‘kampung’ community spirit of the movement to institutionalise it. My gut-feel is that people are inspired by this movement precisely because it is in their hands – they get to task a hawker of their choice (someone they are comfortable with) to carry out the good deed.


Cynical comments have popped up, as one might expect, asking “How do you know for sure that the hawkers will follow through?” “They might find that this is a way to just line their own pockets.” “Too naive to believe that everyone is trustworthy”.

** This movement hinges on the belief that there are good people out there.

Personally, if someone gave me $10 to give out packets of my food to feed poor old ladies, I would never pocket the money. My bet is that 99% or even 100% of the hawkers would not pocket the money either. **

At the end of the day, it is sad & a bit demoralising to see the haters’ comments – they have such a jaundiced view of the world, and I worry that they will colour the view of the many kind-hearted & optimistic people who have joined in. So, I say, “Cynics begone from this page. This movement is based on good faith, trust & a belief in the good in others. Cynics trying to tear the movement down have no place here.”

Ultimately, my view is this: If what I do allows even ONE person to be fed, who would otherwise have gone hungry, then it has been worth it.


Singaporeans are always given such a hard time for being ‘selfish’, ‘robotic’ and ‘heartless’. I find that there is a lot of kindness in people all around us in Singapore. Singaporeans look very standoffish but when you need help, strangers will usually come to your aid.
** I think that people in Singapore are actually very kind, they just don’t often get the chance to show it. This gives them that chance. **

Why start this?

Who hasn’t ever been down and out and needed help of some kind? When I was down and out, I was grateful to be able to rely on the help of my aunts, mum & brother. Everyone can do with a helping hand every now and then. This way, we help people who have no one else to help them.

My parents are some of the most generous people I know. Growing up with their example, helping strangers or the needy just becomes a natural thing to do.

**This movement would fulfil a basic human need for food, and I think it is wonderful to be able to feed someone a good meal; who cares if you never meet the person and you never get any thanks for it. That’s what Paying It Forward is all about. Hoping that the good deeds you do without any return, will inspire others to do wonderful things too. **