Singapore: Food donation bill aims to help those struggling to eat well amid financial woes

To keep her grocery expenses low, Ms. Lynna has been salvaging unsold bread and vegetables from malls, and unserved cooked meals from hotels, up to three times a week.

The 51-year-old, who is in the midst of a divorce and has two teenage sons with special needs, is taking courses to return to the workforce.

The family recently moved to a two-room Housing Board rental flat, and Ms. Lynna, who declined to reveal her full name, is receiving financial aid from a Social Service Office to cover most of her bills and rent.

“Sometimes, what I rescue is enough for one or two meals a day for my family. Half of my grocery bill has been reduced,” said Ms. Lynna, who is a food rescuer from grassroots group Divert for 2nd Life (D2L).

People in similar situations like Ms. Lynna, including seniors living alone, migrant workers and residents of welfare homes, will stand to benefit from a Good Samaritan Food Donation law, which, if passed, could motivate more businesses and hotels to donate surplus food items instead of discarding them.

A key tenet of the proposed bill is to protect businesses and other donors against liability — for example, food poisoning — as long as the donated food complies with strict safety and hygiene measures.

A study in 2020 by the Singapore Management University Lien Center for Social Innovation found that about 10% of Singaporeans struggled to get sufficient, safe and nutritious food at least once in 12 months.

Among the 10%, two out of five households found it a challenge to get such food at least once a month.

Another D2L rescuer, Ms. Cassie, learned about a family of seven who had been living on instant noodles. A friend told her that the family had been collecting numerous boxes of instant noodles from another rescue group.

Ms. Cassie, who is in her 50s, found out that the family ran into financial problems when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. There are five children in the family, who are in their preteens and teens. Since early December, Ms. Cassie—who declined to reveal her surname — has been rescuing unsold food for them.

She recently gave them containers of potato gratin, salmon, buttered carrots and roast chicken — unserved portions from a hotel Christmas buffet — which delighted the family.

“The mother was very grateful and sent me many messages. Her children have not had such food in a long time. Must have been a real treat for them,” she added.

Every week, two bakeries in Clementi donate their unsold bread — such as rainbow loaves and rolls topped with cheese and garlic — to Thong Kheng Seniors Activity Centre at Block 3 Jalan Bukit Merah.

On Dec. 8, the center distributed the bread to housebound seniors in the rental block, including retirees Thanaletchmi, 78, and Papa Jevan Singh, 86.

Madam Papa said: “I will toast the bread and eat it at night and tomorrow morning. The center cares for me.”

Almost every month, The Turning Point, a halfway house, collects boxes of groceries that will expire in three months, or those with damaged packaging, from charity Food from the Heart. The items include canned food, milk, noodles and luncheon meat.

The Turning Point’s operations and administration executive Sharon Law said: “When we fry beehoon, we would add the donated canned meat before they expire and other fresh items to the dish, and don’t need to buy so much ingredients. We can instead spend on more fruits and household items like floor cleaner and detergent.”

But there are some concerns over donated cooked food, which has a shorter lifespan.

Ramakrishna Mission Boys’ Home receives groceries, and sometimes, frozen cooked food — such as chicken — from charity The Food Bank Singapore.

Ramakrishna Mission president Swami Samachittananda said: “Cooked food is a little risky [to accept] until we are guaranteed that it is cooked the day of, or the day before, and is frozen. While repacking the food, there are also chances of contamination.

“Instead of putting the children in jeopardy, it is better not to accept it.”