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Mobile grocery trucks to serve 7,200 vulnerable families in South West district

Armed with a foldable shopping trolley, Choa Chu Kang resident Suratemin Ali, 72, joined 100 other residents on the morning of April 27 to pick out groceries and household items like bread, canned sardines and cooking oil from a retrofitted truck.

The mobile grocery truck, which is part of a newly launched programme called Mobile Groceries @ South West, was parked at Block 236 Choa Chu Kang Central and stacked high with 19 types of grocery and household items. The residents from vulnerable families chose items totalling up to $40 per household based on their needs.

Items were packed and handed out by about 40 student volunteers from Hwa Chong Institution and Lianhua Primary School.

The truck is part of a small fleet that will eventually rove around the South West District, which comprises 18 divisions, and provide 7,200 vulnerable families with around $300,000 worth of groceries and essential items over a two-year period.

This is to help the families defray their daily expenses and cope with the cost of living.

Three distribution activities will be held per month under the programme – a partnership between the South West Community Development Council (CDC) and charity Hao Ren Hao Shi.

“I’m not sure how much it will help us save (on costs) yet, but I will accept what they give us because I have no income otherwise,” said Mr Suratemin, a retiree whose wife is also retired. “I have two children who are married and have their own children, but I don’t want to disturb them,” added Mr Suratemin, who currently draws money from his Central Provident Fund savings scheme.

Launched by Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong and South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling, the partnership saw South West CDC matching the amount raised by Hao Ren Hao Shi with dollar-for-dollar funding. The charity raised $150,000 for the initiative and South West CDC matched the sum, for a total of $300,000.

“By providing a template like this and helping our 18 divisions to identify a few patrons to put together the resources and donations, the South West District will then come in and match the funds raised to double it and scale it up,” said Ms Low, speaking to the media on the sidelines of the event.

“In time to come, we hope to scale (the programme) to many more families.”

Besides lowering residents’ cost of living pressures, the mobile grocery truck format “brings the supermarket to their doorstep”.

“We want to make it more convenient and easier for our seniors, especially those with mobility issues, to choose and get their groceries,” Ms Low said.

Over the two years, more than 2,000 student and youth volunteers will be involved in the programme.

“An initiative like this provides student volunteers with the opportunity to be able to serve the less fortunate and also, in the process, strengthen social responsibility,” noted Ms Low.

Mr Gan, an MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, which falls under the South West District, said: “This is a very important process of education, of sharing our values with the younger generation... We hope that when they grow up, they can also become a useful member of the community and do their part towards strengthening community bonding.”

Among the student volunteers was 18-year-old Hwa Chong Institution student Alicia Ng.

“Instead of putting together a bag of pre-decided groceries, (residents) get to decide what kind of food they want, so it reduces food wastage and it’s more dynamic, as it’s like a grocery store,” said Ms Ng, who regularly volunteers and also works with former convicts with the Singapore After-Care Association.

She added that her experience working with the Mobile Groceries initiative was meaningful.

“It’s very eye-opening, in that it teaches you to cherish what you have,” she said. “If society has given so much to you, you should, if you have the capacity to, give back, and you can make a change if you have free time during your weekends.”