By Izyan Nadzirah
In a country that is already saturated with banks, it may seem something of a surprise that two siblings should decide to found yet another. But this is not your typical bank. Rather, with the establishment of The Food Bank Singapore, Nichol and Nicholas Ng have sought to invest in the wellbeing of the less fortunate using food as the main currency of trade.
The siblings decided to establish The Food Bank Singapore in January 2012 after conducting extensive surveys with food companies and concluding that there are definitely “pockets of…excess food ‘floating’ around in [Singapore’s] food chain.”
The food bank is meant to make it easier for companies in the food industry and members of the public, to donate food at a central location as well as to ease the workload of Volunteer Welfare Organisations and charities that ensure families in need have access to food.
But Nicholas and Nichol had another reason for setting up the food bank as well, one that hits closer to home.
“We have a family business, FoodXervices, dealing with food,” explains Nicholas. “And over time, we realised that, although we mostly deal with non-perishable items, there were still instances where we threw away food.”
“We’re always on the lookout (to see) how we can be socially responsible Singaporeans, (so) it was only natural to begin to introduce corporate social responsibility within our own company.”
At first, FoodXervices collaborated with other companies facing similar issues. Soon afterwards, the Ng siblings opened The Food Bank Singapore.
What’s a food bank?
The Food Bank Singapore, though the first of its kind in Singapore, is based on a concept that has been around for years
In essence, it is a place where Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies, food retailers, producers and members of the public can donate surplus or leftover foods. The food bank then matches the donations with VWOs and charities that distribute them to needy families.
The first food bank was founded 1967 in the US state of Arizona. A community dining room volunteer named John van Hegel realised that grocery stores were throwing out products which had damaged packaging or were nearing their expiration dates. With the help of St. Mary’s Basilica, he created a central location where grocers could drop off these unwanted perishables.
Over the past forty-five years, food banks have been established throughout America and Europe. In 2006 a Global Food Banking Network was set up, followed by a Food Bank Leadership Institute the following year, to provide a platform to educate, strengthen and expand existing food bank operations.
Banking Hopes and Food Dreams
Since its launch, The Food Bank Singapore has received monthly donations from companies, shops and concerned citizens, though the amount of food donated varies.
Nicholas recalls receiving a phone call from an expat recently who was in the midst of packing up to return to her home country and had come across a few non-perishable items. She wanted to know if they would accept small food donations – about three to four items in total.
“The Food Bank Singapore accepts all kinds of food donations – from a single can of tuna to cartons of dried bee hoon. What is extra to someone can provide for another or a whole family. Every bit counts,” says Nicholas.
When it comes to getting support from FMCGs, however, it can be pretty hard. Some companies are unwilling to contribute, notes Nichol, because they don’t fully understand corporate social responsibility. There are also companies who have a policy against such donations because they want to protect their brand. Nichol and Nicholas are positive though that by increasing public awareness, more and more companies will donate over time.
Word of Mouth
The siblings have depended mainly on word-of-mouth to create awareness of The Food Bank Singapore. Initially they would rely on business partners in the food industry and beneficiaries like The Salvation Army and Willing Hearts to spread the word. Recently, though, they’ve received more attention, including feature articles in The Straits Times and Lianzhe Zhaobao and at the Food Hotel Asia exhibition.
Students have also seeked their advice on how to conduct food donation drives and to find out about other avenues to support the food bank. Both Nicholas and Nichol are glad that there seems to be a strong sense of responsibility among the younger generation, which can help ensure the food bank’s success by publicising the project.
The ONE Food Drive
On Saturday 17 November 2012, ONE (SINGAPORE) with the support of Class 95FM is organizing a food drive in support of The Food Bank Singapore and the soup kitchen, Willing Hearts.
“The Food Bank Singapore is a fantastic initiative to match food donations with people who need assistance and those working to help them,” explains ONE (SINGAPORE) president Vernetta Lopez, when asked why ONE (SG) chose to work with the food bank. “It’s a new charity – just founded this year – and so we’re really excited to tell more people about them.”
“Nichol and her brother are really inspiring,” adds ONE (SINGAPORE) co-founder Michael Switow. “We’ve worked with them for several years through the Every ONE Can programme, a grocery warehouse sale to support people in need. They’ve transformed their family business and made a solid commitment to the community. In fact, Nichol subsequently accepted an invitation to join ONE (SINGAPORE)’s Executive Committee.”
To learn more about how you can support the ONE Food Drive, go to www.onesingapore.org/onefooddrive.
- The ONE Food Drive 2012, supported by Class 95FM
- “Siblings put food waste to good use” (The Straits Times, 11 April 2012)
- Siblings tap on family business experience to start The Food Bank Singapore (Lianhe Zaobao, 20 April 2012)
This article was edited by Rob Teo. Images courtesy of The Food Bank Singapore