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Singaporeans test ‘cool’ new idea to provide food for needy

Two refrigerators offer free food for whoever wants it, but not everyone’s making sure to leave food for others

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 10:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 10:45am

By Kenneth Cheng

Two brand-new refrigerators, parked side-by-side at a lift lobby in in the Singaporean town of Tampines, have been drawing strange stares from residents there of late.

Those who have ventured a closer look have been somewhat surprised by the sight of fresh produce, meat and eggs inside the refrigerators located at Block 441 Tampines Street 43. And they are free to take what they want or need - no questions asked.

It is not a prank or a marketing gimmick. Instead, the refrigerators are part of a new, experimental community initiative aimed at encouraging residents in the area to help provide food for needy residents.

The project was started by the Tampines North Citizens’ Consultative Committee, with support from the Tampines Town Council. One of the refrigerators stores Halal food and the other contains non-Halal items.

The Tampines North — My Kind of Fridge project seeks to kindle the community’s “kampung spirit”, said Mr Baey Yam Keng, a Member of Parliament for Tampines Group Representation Constituency.

The refrigerators, which were donated, were first stocked up last Saturday with contributions from residents who learnt of the initiative through social media.

While the project targets families in Blocks 441 and 442 — rental blocks that house between 200 and 300 residents across 100-odd units — Mr Baey said it was not confined only to these residents.

“There’ll be some people who may not be living in rental flats but may face hardship as well, and if they need that occasional access to food on the table, they’re most welcome,” he said, adding that the initiative was intentionally left “open and accessible”.

He acknowledged that some people may abuse the initiative by sweeping the fridges clean of items.

“But I’ve faith in the community that these people are in the real minority,” said Mr Baey, who is also Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth. “I don’t have to devise a very complicated mechanism to deter them at the expense of a lot more people who can benefit.”

To heighten awareness of the initiative, posters have been put up on the notice boards of flats in Tampines North. Grassroots volunteers have also been helping to spread the word.

However, when TODAY visited Block 441 on Tuesday, the fridges were largely bare, save for items such as chillies, and a handful of fruits and vegetables.

Madam Ng Ai Mui, 76, who has lived in Block 441 for nearly two decades, said she would take items such as fruits, but would be considerate in leaving some for others.

“Some people are very greedy and take a lot. Some take for their grandchildren and others; they shouldn’t do so,” she told TODAY in Mandarin.

Another resident, Madam Aminah Sakibau, has taken fish, vegetables and apples from the fridge and said she would not take whatever she already has.

“We go to the market also. Whatever I have, I won’t take,” said the 73-year-old.

Madam Tan Joo Lang, of neighbouring Block 442, said she would keep the cabbage, carrot and potatoes she obtained until Chinese New Year, but the items are “not fresh”. “It’s better to buy from the market,” she added in Mandarin.

Apart from guidelines on the fridges advising residents to inspect the food for its cleanliness, and to ensure it is hygienic, volunteers from the area’s Residents’ Committees will also drop in to check on expired food. Residents in the block also serve as volunteers to keep the fridges clean.

Said Mr Baey: “It’s a joint responsibility ... (to have) this sense of ownership and also accountability and responsibility for what we eat (and) receive.”

The constituency will study the response to the initiative for the next three to six months before deciding if tweaks are needed and if it will be extended to other rental blocks in Tampines.

“If it works well, I’m happy to be able to roll it out to other rental areas in Tampines,” said Mr Baey.

Tampines residents test ‘cool’ new idea to provide food for needy