Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier in the year, some countries and regions – including Singapore – have reported panic buying and empty shelves, with the public stocking up on food and essential items.
While people are stocking up their shelves due to the fear of COVID-19, one particular community shop opens its doors to the elderly and needy to pick up essential food items every month for free, The Pride reported on Wednesday (27 May).
Launched earlier in February, Food From The Heart’s (FFTH) community shop was set up in Mountbatten Single Member Constituency (SMC), Macpherson SMC, and Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC) to serve roughly 5,000 benefitting households nationwide.
The FFTH community shop aims to support the underprivileged in Singapore as it empowers beneficiaries to choose up to 12 food items from its shop every month for free.
Located at 13 Old Airport Road #01-57, the community shop operates three days a week – on every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – from 9.30am to 12.30pm. The shop is said to be frequented by the elderly residents staying at rental flats.
Noting the role of a community store among the neighbourhood, FFTH’s Chief Executive Officer Sim Bee Hia explained that the shop is located in the heart of the estate which makes it easy for the beneficiaries to drop by.
She added that the shop is also a place where the beneficiaries can meet up with their neighbours and volunteers.
“It also allows us to collect important data on what are the items most in demand, and how often they are picked up, which could help us to serve our beneficiaries better in future,” Ms Sim remarked.
Most of the beneficiaries are considerate, only take what they need
Jenny Poon, one of the FFTH volunteers in the community shop, shared with The Pride that it has been an “eye-opening experience” for her as she was able to interact closely with the beneficiaries while packing food packages for them.
“Here, you’re actually able to see their reactions and it’s quite nice talking to them. Most of them are very appreciative. It’s good to see people come in, leave their homes to interact with other people, and use this as a gathering place,” said Ms Poon.
She noted that those who have visited the shop have “big hearts” for others who are in the same situation as them.
“Even though they are able to take up to 12 items in a month, many of them are considerate, and they tell me that they will only take what they need,” added Ms Poon.
One of the elderly visitors, Mr Guo, who is in his late 80s, told The Pride that he only visits the shop when he needs to pick up more food.
“I’m not greedy. I just make do with what I have. I don’t come here all the time, and will only drop by when I need to pick up more food.
“I have everything, the only thing I don’t have is money,” he remarked.
The Pride wrote that Mr Guo, being on social assistance, had been receiving rations from grassroots organisations. However, since FFTH set up shop, he has been visiting the shop to get the items that he needs.
Meanwhile, another FFTH volunteer, Colleen Kleinschmidt, a 35-year-old Australian, expressed that she found volunteering at the store a meaningful way to get involved in the community.
Given that she just moved to Singapore about a year ago, she commented that it is quite difficult to talk to the beneficiaries because she don’t speak Mandarin or Malay.
Notwithstanding the language barrier, Ms Kleinschmidt said, “But we all smile in the same language, and it’s always nice for me to see them smile when they come in and say ‘thank you’ when they go.”
Empowering the power of choice for the beneficiaries to choose the items they want
The Pride’s article also highlighted that FFTH community shop provides the power of choice for the beneficiaries to choose the items they want in order to reduce wastage in food packs.
As such, Ms Sim reasoned that some of them can be wary of how they are perceived due to the stigma.
“Letting them have a choice in what food items they can get is empowering – they can choose what they want, and when they want to get it. It empowers them to make decisions.
“We have even seen the kampung spirit at work, where they try to help others like them. For example, earlier, we had a visitor who was here to pick up some products for her friend, who isn’t currently a registered beneficiary,” she elaborated.
Not only this, Ms Sim also hinted that the model of FFTH community shop works although it is still in the early stages.
“We have a food drop where anyone can just donate food items as they please. There are times when we return to the shop to find that it’s filled to the brim, likely contributed by those who live nearby,” she noted.
In the article, it was also mentioned that the applications from residents in the neighbourhood to become a FFTH beneficiary have increased, which Ms Sim opined is due to people sharing about their experience at the shop with their friends, as well as the poorer economic climate taking its toll, given that many who had lost their jobs came seeking for help.
Over the past month or so, the shop has reportedly seen about 10 new beneficiaries.
Speaking about the efforts of rising the living standards for the needy, Ms Sim believed that it is worthwhile because the shop offers the underprivileged the dignity of being treated much like any other consumer is able to in making their own choices.
“We made a conscious choice to furnish the store nicely so those who come can feel like they are shopping at a supermarket. There are decorations hand-drawn by an artist, and even a chiller donated by the design company we worked with which allows us to provide items like fresh milk, butter and fruits,” she remarked.
Ms Sim went on to say, “Their circumstances are already so different from the rest of us. If we don’t nudge them up, they will just keep sinking because the gap will keep on widening.
“Can we solve all these problems with our shop? We’re not very sure, but we know that it’s a start, and we can start looking at a better model for us to give.”