Growing up poor and underprivileged, it was normal for Adrian Ang to drink tap water in an attempt to fill his stomach and keep the hunger pangs at bay.
The memory of how “terrible and debilitating” that experience felt was so deeply ingrained in his mind, that the founder of local F&B franchise Stuff’d decided his company would do its part to help children in Singapore who face similar predicaments today.
Starting in April this year, the franchise best known for its tasty Mexican and Turkish fare first piloted a programme at its Northpoint outlet that would allow underprivileged children to pick up one meal a day for free. The initiative is open to children below the age of 14, although the staff have made exceptions for older youths on a case-by-case basis.
Four months later, Stuff’d announced in late Aug that the initiative would expand to its outlets at White Sands, Jurong Point and Bugis Junction, bringing the total number of participating outlets to four.
Speaking to The Pride, Stuff’d spokersperson Nur Faatin Binte Mohamad says: “From the launch in April, we received about 100 enquiries from the public at the Northpoint outlet. In some cases, the families and children themselves approached our staff.”
The programme had to be carefully designed to safeguard the integrity of the process for the children to redeem their free meals, while keeping it easy and accessible to those who need help.
Faatin explains: “The pilot programme enabled us to finetune our mechanics. We spoke to teachers and welfare organisations to learn how best to spot the signs in children that may indicate that they need help. There were also questions our staff were trained to ask in a sensitive way if approached by the public. The priority was to ensure that those who need help would be given it.”
At the Northpoint outlet, some 50 physical cards were given out to children that would entitle them to pick up one free meal a day. Stuff’d also worked with volunteers and social welfare entities to hand out some of these meal cards to their beneficiaries.
In all, Stuff’d, which operates a total of 36 stalls islandwide, estimates that they have received close to 200 public enquiries.
And there are ambitions to take the initiative even further, as Faatin says: “We’ve had enquiries coming in from places like Clementi and Punggol which are some distance away from the four outlets that are currently part of the programme.
“It’s definitely something we hope to do – to involve more of our remaining outlets so that no child needs to go hungry as long as there is a Stuff’d outlet near them.”
In the notoriously competitive F&B industry, would establishing an initiative to provide free meals for the needy prove too much cost to bear?
Faatin brushes off the thought and shares: “With every beneficiary that we can help, profit is really not the main concern. Many of our colleagues have also said that it’s a great feeling for them to be able to do their bit to ensure needy children don’t have to go hungry.
“It’s not about being noble or anything like that, but about taking that first step to bring our vision of helping these children to life. Hopefully, our efforts can raise awareness of the feasibility for others like us to give back to the community, and inspire other quick-serve restaurants to run similar programmes to help the underprivileged in our midst.”