Food Bank's mission to help Singapore's needy (Amended)

Because food is perishable and much of it cannot be stocked up, one challenge for the organisation is maintaining a constant stream of food donations


Being in the food distribution business, co-owner of FoodXervices Nicholas Ng knows first-hand about the food wastage that goes on in supermarkets.

"Many products that do not make it off the shelves of supermarkets usually end up getting incinerated even before they are expired," said Mr Ng.

Seeking to do good through a food-related effort, and seeing the amount of food wastage that was going on, the owners and siblings of the family business FoodXervices, Nichol and Nicholas Ng started Food Bank Singapore. It is a registered charity which aims to be the leading centralised organisation for coordinating all food donations in Singapore.

The types of food they collect include those that are cooked, dried, chilled and packaged. They are also adding perishables to the list this year.

Food Bank has several programmes which provide opportunities for schools, companies and the general public to volunteer their time to contribute to society. Mr Ng told The Business Times that one of their more successful programmes is food bundling.

Food bundling

He said: "Local branches of American companies have come to us to tell us that they are required by their parent company to clock some hours for CSR (corporate social responsibility) but they do not know what to do, and most of them do not want to do it."

He promotes a simple and easy way that lets companies volunteer their time to achieve their objective and to help the community.

Under the charity's food bundling programme that they offer to corporate clients, companies write a cheque of any amount to purchase a certain quantity of food bundles. Food Bank uses to money to purchase food from FoodXervices, and companies then send their employees to Food Bank's warehouse to re-pack the food into bundles. These packages are distributed to beneficiaries which include family service centres, senior citizens homes and soup kitchens.

FoodXervices supports the charity in three ways. First, the 120 employees of FoodXervices are encouraged to volunteer their time with Food Bank, and most of them have done so.

Second, the drivers at Logixtics - a logistics company that is one of three subsidiaries of FoodXervices - support Food Bank by regularly volunteering their time to deliver the food products to beneficiaries.

Third, the cost to obtain food products for Food Bank is lower than what supermarkets charge. This is because FoodXervices sells food products to Food Bank at wholesale prices. This means companies can contribute more food bundles to the needy as they get "more bang for their buck".

Apart from food bundling, Food Bank has a small store on Sims Avenue where they sell food items that are still in good condition but are nearing their expiry date. These items are priced at S$1 each, and sales proceeds go towards the operational costs of the shop, then Food Bank.

Since its registration as a company in 2012, Food Bank now has over 200 donors - either individuals or companies - whose donations go to 168 beneficiaries. The day-to-day operations of the organisation is handled by two full-time staff and an executive director.

How Food Bank started

This non-profit organisation started off as a CSR project that the siblings wanted to do for FoodXervices. Mr Ng said: "It was an idea that was supposed to be our CSR, but we realised that it could grow bigger than what it is, so we registered it as a company.

"Nichol and I wanted to do it also because we wanted a charity element to our business where our young children can hopefully learn something about society and do good at a younger age."

However, Mr Ng believes that much more can be done to grow Food Bank for it to benefit more people in a bigger way. To this end, he is working to ensure donations are more consistent.

One way of doing this is by encouraging companies to pledge donations, said Mr Ng. Such practice is common in Western countries such as the US.

"We need consistency in donations because people need to eat every day. Even if you give them 20 packets of rice during Chinese New Year (that's also when Food Bank receives the most food donations), they can't keep the rice for the whole year because it will go bad."

To date, Food Bank has not obtained any such pledges. Although it has tried to get companies on board, those efforts have been unsuccessful. Mr Ng thinks this is because the charity is very young and does not have the trust of companies and the public.

"Hopefully the credentials that we just got - IPC (Institutions of a Public Character) status and the Global FoodBanking Network membership - will let people feel more comfortable because they know that we are a verified and legitimate organisation that can be trusted."

  • This is part of a series of stories on impactful corporate giving under the Company of Good programme led by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). The Business Times is supporting the initiative as media partner.

Amendment: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said that one of Food Bank's challenges is maintaining a constant stream of monetary donations to purchase food. It is in fact the maintenance of a constant stream of food donations that is their main challenge. The article above has been revised to reflect this.

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