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The Food Bank Singapore: Championing food security in times of need

How siblings Nichol and Nicholas Ng helped deliver over 700,000 warm meals to those that needed it during the lockdown.

Huddled in a budget hotel, a group of Vietnamese women survived for five days on crackers and water. As Covid-19 continued to shut down restaurants and retailers in Singapore, foreign workers such as these women found themselves out of a job and void of income. Alerted by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre to their predicament, Nichol and Nicholas Ng sent over piping hot meals in under two hours.

As co-founders of non-profit organisation The Food Bank Singapore, the siblings have been feeding underprivileged families and the vulnerable elderly since 2012. With the pandemic upending livelihoods in its wake, the charity has been leaving the door open for anyone – not just Singaporeans and permanent residents – needing to fill their stomach.

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The Food Bank typically works with a network of 360 charities to collect and distribute produce and pantry items to beneficiaries. But, when social distancing measures kicked in during the Circuit Breaker period, it did something it hadn’t done before: deliver cooked meals.

“We were one of the few charities that still had the licence to go door to door, and we took it upon our small team of seven to fulfil our charity partners’ roles. We were essentially a small-scale Foodpanda that had to match meals to addresses while handling dietary requests,” says Nichol, 42, describing Feed The City – Take-away Edition, a Food Bank initiative that sought to deliver 50,000 meals to needy families while supporting struggling restaurants.

“We were essentially a small-scale Foodpanda that had to match meals to addresses.”

Donors pay for meals from food partners such as caterer Grain and three-Michelin-star French restaurant Odette that are then distributed across Singapore. At the height of the pandemic, the initiative saw over 13,000 meals delivered per day, a feat made possible as corporations also stepped up to the plate. “We had a team of SIA pilots who volunteered to deliver food to the east. And DBS Bank activated drivers from its limousine service to help,” shares Nichol. As of July 10, 700,000 daily meals have been delivered to over 15,000 beneficiaries in 1,307 locations.

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To Help The Needy

Even though the project has exceeded its target, the siblings will continue to run it as hunger remains a serious concern. “We’ve been receiving many urgent e-mail messages from people asking for food. Before the pandemic, we might get about five such e-mail messages a month. Now, we get 20 to 30 messages or calls daily,” says Nicholas, 41.

Beyond putting food on the table, they also want to provide tasty, nutritious meals to close what they perceive to be a gap in the ecosystem. To that end, they are working with the Singapore Heart Foundation to create dishes such as ginger fish, brown rice vermicelli and black pepper chicken in an initiative backed by an $80,000 donation from the Philips Foundation.

An additional $650,000 injection from UBS will enable the Food Bank to roll out 40 vending machines across the island to dispense these meals alongside dry rations. While the Ngs, who also run food distribution company FoodXervices Inc, have seen their family business slow down during the pandemic, upholding Food Bank’s mission of eradicating food insecurity remains
par for the course.

“When our late father became bankrupt and we lost it all, we knew from the first day that if we had the opportunity to give back, we would do something. Businesses everywhere might be facing cash flow issues how, but there are people who don’t even know where their next meal is coming from and that drives us forward significantly,” says Nichol.

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Photography: Tan Wei Te