But there are many among us who are not food secure, and yet, only 9% of them are getting help despite there being 125 food support organisations in Singapore according to a 2018 study on food insecurity by researchers from the Lien Centre for Social Innovation.
You might be wondering, why is that so?
Well, here are some reasons why.
Overserved & Underserved
You may be shocked to find out that there is no central database for all the food charity organisations in Singapore to know who is getting help and who isn’t.
So how do they know if the family they’re serving is being helped by other sources too?
Simply put, they don’t, until their beneficiaries tell them.
It is common to find multiple households getting food from the various food charity organisations to the point that it is too much for them to consume, leading to a lot of food wastage. At the same time, there can be households in the same apartment block not receiving any help at all.
One Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) representative said, “Generally, areas with a sizeable and older cluster of rental flats tend to be more well-known, and thus better served by food support organisations. This may lead to wastage in some cases, and some households remain underserved, especially those who do not live in rental flats.”
Many food charity organisations give out the same kind of non-perishables with a long shelf-life so that these households can take their time with the food and always have something to eat in the case that cooked meals are not delivered to them.
But as a result, many overserved beneficiaries end up having too much rice, instant noodles, biscuits and canned food that they do not eat. Keeping them for too long will also cause them to rot or expire.
You know, the problem those hoarders have.
Furthermore, food charity organisations usually know about a family’s plight after being given a referral by the family service centres (FSCs) RCs, senior activity centres and community centres. However, there are still some families who need help but are not made known to these centres.
During an interview with CNA, Serene Loh claims that a typical bag of rations would definitely be enough for an elderly person, but it isn’t enough to feed her entire family of six. She said, “We used to receive food rations from the FSC every two weeks, but we can finish them in a day. My kids are still growing so they will eat a lot.”
She also explained that she feels that many volunteer groups help the elderly way more than families with children, who need equally as much help. She said, “It’s not fair that only the elderly get so much help.”
Many food charity organisations also seem to focus more on rental blocks with elderly people as their target audience.
Keeping Hope Alive’s founder, Ms Fion Phua, noted about the Chin Swee area, “People only see blocks 51 and 52 because these are the rental flats with a majority of old people. But just behind Chin Swee is Jalan Minyak, blocks 4, 5 and 6. You don’t see many elderly folks there because there’s a mix of families with children as well. So, if you focus only on serving the elderly, you wouldn’t enter that area.”
She also noted that while Holland Village seems to be very trendy with the number of bars and cafes it has, there are still families living in the single block of rental flats at Holland Close that require help. “People don’t see it because the focus is always on big estates. Plus, this kind of flats are not near the MRT station.”
Seeing as to how they’re more inaccessible to reach, many volunteers may find it difficult and inconvenient to carry large and heavy bags or rations to those families.
Frequency Of Distribution Of Rations
Another problem is the frequency of the distribution of rations. 88-year-old Mdm Loh signed up to pick up two heavy plastic bags of rations from a temple every Wednesday, and clearly, it is way too much for her.
However, she says that she has no choice, “If one week you don’t come and pick up, they will strike your name off. They won’t give you the next week.”
Food isNot Catered To Their Needs
Many of the food donations given to the beneficiaries may not necessarily be good for their health, and may not be catered to them.
For example, some of the beneficiaries have diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but the organisations don’t know this and continue to give them things like syrup-heavy canned longans or cans of fried dace fish with black beans. These end up contributing to food wastage simply because they can’t eat them. And if they do eat them, as Ms Fion Phua said, “it’s a slow suicide”.
Despite there being guidelines provided by the Health Promotion Board in 2018 about what kind of healthier options of food to provide for beneficiaries, former academic Dr Jenson Goh remarked, “The guidelines are a broad stroke, but there are very different, unique individual needs. The approach has to be personalised.”
Another example would be the fact that while beneficiaries may be getting fresh and healthy produce, some of them do not have any equipment to cook them with and are thus rendered useless. This once again contributes to food waste.
Dr Goh believes that feedback should be given to the organisations so that they know how to better provide food to these beneficiaries, but many of them are hesitant about doing this because according to Ms Phua, they may be seen as ungrateful.
Furthermore, many of these organisations just leave the food at the beneficiaries’ doors, so there isn’t a chance for the beneficiaries to inform them that they are being overserved.
Lack Of Manpower
While there may be charity kitchens that are willing to prepare as many meals as they can for the beneficiaries that they are serving, they have a difficult time finding volunteers to deliver these cooked meals to them every day, on time without spilling any of the food.
Willing Hearts start their preparation of meals as early as 6.30am, and the meals then get delivered by 30 to 40 volunteers between 9.30am and 11.30am.
Despite the Singapore Food Agency explicitly stating that cooked food should be consumed, refrigerated or frozen within two hours, some beneficiaries simply keep their cooked meals from lunch until dinner time without storing them in a fridge because they simply don’t have one.
Willing Heart’s Eng Hwa understood but said, “Occasionally we hear that people do not know how to store or heat up the food properly. If it was possible to recruit more volunteers or partners, we could serve dinner in the afternoon. But for now, this is the best we can do.”
Even though Touch Home Care does deliver both lunch and dinner to 1,000 elderly people in Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio and Jurong, they sometimes find themselves in a struggle trying to deliver the food on time. The centre manager for Touch Home Care, Sam Ngeow, revealed, “Some volunteers would back out last minute or come too late – the meals would be close to expirations. They need to be consumed within four hours of cooking. I can’t let them be delivered.”
In order to solve this problem, TOUCH also provides its beneficiaries with food rations every two months.
So, what’s the solution?
Sharing data and coordination between the food charity organisations and the government seem like the most obvious and most crucial step to ensuring that everything will work out fine – no more overserved and underserved – but there’s a reason why groups are finding it difficult to share information with one another.
Dr Goh said, “It’s sensitive data. Between the food group and the beneficiary, there is already trust built. The food insecure often face complex problems, so groups feel the need to be more careful (about their clients’ privacy).”
Food Bank’s Nichol Ng commented, “I don’t think we should overlap each other’s territories. Let’s say if you’re already covering this area’s 1,000 households, maybe some of us should be hands off.”
Another reason why some of the groups may not share their information or may guard their turf very strictly is that they are afraid that they will lose their funding. After all, the funding is what allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.
Free Food for All’s founder, Nizar Mohd Shariff admitted, “As charities, we are always vying for eyeballs because that’s how we get donations coming in. I think people are afraid that ‘if I were to do something collectively (with others), it would dilute my ability to get funding’.”
While this is the case, Nichol believes that the food charity organisations in Singapore will eventually be able to work out their differences and work together to provide a better service for their beneficiaries.
She added, “We’re all in the business of helping others, so let’s do this business better – a team of charities bonding over the love of food and over the love of feeding other people.”
If you’re one who is food secure, why not also do your part in serving the community by helping those who aren’t? A little help really goes a long way.
Or develop an app to help them share data more effectively. After all, if you’ve truly read through every word here, you’d see the real problem: the lack of a platform to share what’s given.