On a Mission: Food Bank Singapore

Siblings Nichol and Nicholas Ng tell Grace Ma how they are bringing quality excess food to those who need it most through The Food Bank Singapore

When Nichol ng and her younger brother Nicholas first tried to register The Food Bank Singapore as a non-profit organisation in 2012, they were met with confusion. Nichol recalls the moment amusedly, “The officer kept saying, ‘No, Singapore does not allow for another bank. No more banking licence available.’“It took us nearly three months to get the name approved after repeated assurance that we are not interested in bonds and fixed deposits—we only want more food!”


Today, there is no doubt about what The Food Bank is doing in its mission to be the centralised coordinating organisation for all food donations in Singapore. From a few tonnes of food in 2012, it now collects about 60 tonnes each month, which is distributed to the needy through a network of voluntary welfare organisations such as family service centres, soup kitchens and homes. These food items are safe and fit for consumption but may have lost their commercial value due to their proximity to the sell-by date, labelling or packaging errors, surplus inventories or minor recipe variations.

According to a 2015 report by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the National Environment Agency, 788,600 tonnes of food waste was generated in 2014 and there was a 48 per cent increase in the past 10 years.

During her 13 years of running the family’s food distribution business and three other food-related subsidiaries, Nichol has also noticed an increase in food prices along with excess wastage. “Food that is perfectly fit for consumption is sometimes thrown away due to high industry standards. Yet, we still have people who do not have enough to eat. In a country without a definition of minimum wage or poverty line, we felt it was important to address the issue so that everyone has the ability to feed himself,” says Nichol, who is also the president of non-profit One (Singapore) that aims to eradicate poverty and inequality.


While the charity’s team of two full-time staff—with the support of more than 700 volunteers—manage the daily operations from running food drives to implementing marketing campaigns and meeting new beneficiaries, the siblings make time to personally meet donors, give talks at schools and reply to e-mail queries.

Nicholas says, “Nichol and I do not see our business and charity as work, as we really enjoy what we do. We work literally seven days a week overseeing all aspects.”

To date, The Food Bank Singapore has collaborated with 200 companies to help 150 charity organisations with food programmes that reach about 100,000 people in Singapore. Its initiatives include placing Bank Boxes around Singapore for people to donate excess food, a Breakfast Cereal programme where 100,000 meals are given to the needy every year, and a Healthy Food Bundle campaign to encourage people to go beyond the usual donations of rice and noodles so that beneficiaries can have better nutrition. Next month, there will be drives to collect excess Lunar New Year goodies and milk powder. These projects are usually funded by corporate sponsors or foundations. As a member of the Global Food Banking Network, an international non-profit organisation that fights world hunger by strengthening and equipping food banks around the world, The Food Bank Singapore also has access to a pool of international donors. Nichol explains, “From 2016 onwards, our objective is to raise funds to manage our operations, since we have been focusing on food donations all this while.”


She wants to expand its network of charity organisations that have food programmes such as family service centres and soup kitchens, and complement their efforts by helping them gain better access to excess food. “We genuinely feel that they should let The Food Bank worry about the food while they focus on other key areas.” says Nichol. She also believes it can go regional and help neighbouring countries set up similar entities.

One hurdle the duo is still trying to overcome is apprehension from food companies and supermarkets in donating their excess food regularly for fear of liability issues. “We try to allay their fears by highlighting the fact that there has not been a court case in the US since food banking started there in 1967,” says Nicholas. Nichol also feels that there is insufficient data on food wastage and how to bring the excess to where it is needed most. “You can get funding and subsidies for most things here, but there is no direct structured support system for food donations. Most food programmes are ad hoc or part of a charity’s bigger programme.”


Still, the greatest satisfaction for Nichol and Nicholas is seeing an increasing awareness of and support for food banking in the corporate and public sectors, and more importantly, the food industry. Nichol says, “The idea of starting a food bank was beyond simply helping the underprivileged. It was also about poking the systems that we have had in place for the food industry. We are glad that because of our efforts in the last few years, the industry is slowly warming up to the idea of donating rather than dumping food. In the next five years, we hope to convince even more food companies to make this an intrinsic part of their operations.”

Article and images retrieved from http://sg.dining.asiatatler.com.