Feeding the underprivileged in Singapore
Three hours a week, 26-year-old Anne Neo collects and distributes bread from local bakeries to elderly and low-income groups in the heartlands. The full-time pharmacist juggles work and running The Giving Collective. The non-profit organisation aims to redistribute excess resources like food, vegetables and other non-perishables to those who need them.
With her core team of six active members, the project aims to “alleviate hunger, create better health and give people the opportunity to channel their energies towards achieving better lives for themselves and their loved ones.”
What started as a way to share extra bread has since morphed into a multi-location bun giveaway project. The organisation has also expanded to include the One Hot Meal project, collaborations with other charities and food sponsors from businesses like Nuvojoy (who donates soya puddings for their cause). We spoke with Anne to find out more.
Giving out bread at Bungiveaway@Neighbourhoods
Anne shares that one of The Giving Collective’s primary and initial projects was to give away buns. She partners with volunteer bakers and bakeries in Singapore to carry out Bungiveaway@neighbourhoods. There are 13 distribution points throughout Chinatown, Choa Chu Kang, Tampines, Toa Payoh and Yishun.
A typical bun giveaway session would have a volunteer bring the bread to the distribution location. Recipients will line up and fill in a Google form to mark their attendance. The recipients will then collect the buns on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Most of the beneficiaries are individuals who live in one- or two-room rental flats. Typically, 15 to 45 people turn up for these sessions; once, 70 people turned up at one of the Chinatown giveaways. An estimated 60 to 100 pieces of baked goods are distributed at each session. Each person is limited to a maximum of six buns per collection to discourage hoarding and ensure no one leaves empty-bellied.
When asked if she knew how many people have received these buns, Anne laughingly replies,“It’s too many to count!”
However, she confesses that she never thought the project would grow so huge.
“When we started in August 2020, we had no idea what would happen. For me, I was just someone with extra bread who wanted to share it with the people around me.
“I’ve been volunteering with Care Corner senior services [at Block 149 Toa Payoh] since I was 18. I collected bread, [buns and pastries] from bakeries on Friday nights to distribute them at the centre on Saturday morning.
When COVID-19 struck, the centre had to close for gatherings. Hence, I gathered my bread and distributed it at the void deck near the rental flats.”
Food insecurity in Singapore
Singapore has a reputation for being a cheap food paradise thanks to her affordable, delicious hawker food offerings. However, a study found one in 10 Singaporeans struggled to get sufficient, safe, nutritious food or face some form of food insecurity.
Throughout her journey setting up The Giving Collective, Anne has come into contact with these people. And she’s learnt to be more understanding and less sceptical of the needs of others.
“Not all who live in middle-sized houses or private property are necessarily rich. They may have their own temporary struggles too.”
She shares that the economic recession brought on by COVID-19 has hit middle-class Singaporeans hard. A new demographic vulnerable to food insecurity is the recently retrenched who have suddenly found themselves without income.
“The definition of ‘poor’ has certainly been redefined in our uncertain social climate and goes beyond simple financial evaluation, CPF or household income declarations.
“[For the people that I have helped], they have said they feel less burdened financially and have more to feed their children and family instead of the usual plain white bread and white rice. [In return], many have offered their time to [help] us as well. Singapore is quite a gracious society once you get to know the people better.”
Giving Out Bread To Reduce Hunger
In the next five years, Anne hopes to be able to expand Bungiveaway@Neighbourhoods to more areas. Additionally, she’s looking to set up a central kitchen for the One Hot Meal project. To achieve these goals, she needs to get more volunteers and food suppliers on board.
“Basically, we have expanded only because of the support from bakeries, goodwill volunteers who stepped in to help get more bakeries on board and those who propose their neighbourhoods because they would like to help their community.”
Some challenges the Giving Collective face are finding last-minute drivers to transport people and food, catering to families with dietary restrictions, and vendors who are unwilling to supply them buns.
The vendors worry about COVID-19 contamination risks and potential food poisoning cases affecting their reputations. These limitations have translated into the inability to scale The Giving Collective efforts more quickly.
But as mentioned in a previous interview with City of Good, she is “very much aware that there are many organisations out there which distribute in much larger quantities than we do.”
“Sometimes, this makes me feel a bit small. But when people write back to say this was my dinner, or I had the buns for breakfast and lunch, I’m reminded that simple gestures like these can make all the difference.”