Small family project Unmanned Free Food Pantry gets bigger, better
Initiative expanding to other parts of Singapore, with more stepping up to volunteer
When Mr Ken Yeo first started the Unmanned Free Food Pantry (UFFP) last August to help the needy staying in rental Housing Board flats, he did not expect his small family project to expand beyond the western part of Singapore.
This year, it is moving to the eastern and northern parts and covering three-room HDB flats, with the number of regular volunteers increasing from 20 to 40.
At first, the UFFP initiative involved Mr Yeo, his wife and their two children, who would set up free small-scale pop-up food pantries at the void decks of low-income neighbourhoods for residents to come by and help themselves, in hopes of helping financially vulnerable households hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
Mr Yeo, a 48-year-old owner of a gourmet minimart, used his connections to procure most of the groceries at wholesale prices.
He told The New Paper: "This style of unmanned pantries is uncommon in Singapore. (We leave the premises as) we want to let people take what they need while protecting their dignity."
From dry non-perishable goods like rice, noodles, canned foods, cereals and biscuits, the items being given away now include eggs, disposable masks, detergent, food donations from volunteers and toothpaste and toothbrushes from corporations.
So far, Mr Yeo has spent about $10,000 out of his own pocket.
He said: "I contribute the money from my savings. This means fewer restaurant trips for the children, but they are okay with that."
His nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son still help out occasionally to pack products and set up the pantries, and are very happy to do so.
"They are more proactive as compared to when they first started, and this has taught them that life is not always easy," he said.
On why he wants to continue with UFFP as long as possible even though the Covid-19 situation has improved, Mr Yeo said: "The impact of Covid-19 is still being felt across society. It hit not only those in rental flats, but also the lower income group in society."
He added: "I am thankful I have the time and financial capability to do it.
"I was partly inspired by my late mother who used to do charity work and buy food for old folk at the old folks' home when I was younger, even though we were not so financially stable.
"I wanted to do something different from other charity initiatives - not to compete but to supplement."
The UFFP has a Facebook page where updates are posted on pantry set-ups across the island.
Mr Yeo tries to do so weekly or whenever volunteers are available - despite getting drenched in the pouring rain during a drop at West Coast on Jan 23.
He said: "I would encourage more people to join as volunteers so that they can have a hands-on experience in helping others. Covid-19 or not, there are still underprivileged people in society."