'We want them to know they're not alone': New scheme to distribute food vouchers to more than 12,000 disadvantaged students

'We want them to know they're not alone': New scheme to distribute food vouchers to more than 12,000 disadvantaged students

CDC mayors on Student Meals Scheme
The five Community Development Council (CDC) mayors, Dr Tahir, Mr Yee Wee Tang of Grab Singapore and Ms Lee Huay Leng of Singapore Press Holdings spent 10 days putting the Student Meals Scheme together. (Photo: CDC) 

SINGAPORE: Five mayors, a dedicated team, 10 days and many Zoom meetings - that was what it took to put together the new Student Meals Scheme, set to benefit more than 12,000 students living in rental housing during the "circuit breaker" period. 

As of 5pm on Thursday (Apr 16), more than 6,000 students have signed up for the scheme, two days after it was launched, Mayors’ Committee Chairman Low Yen Ling told CNA in a phone interview.

“During this challenging period, when some of these students may be missing the support and the familiarity of school, we want the children to know that they are not alone. There are people who care and the community is rallying behind them,” said Ms Low, who is also the mayor of the South West District.

This “whole-of-community” effort is exemplified through the CDCs’ partnership with Indonesian philanthropist Dr Tahir and Grab Singapore, she said, with the CDCs and Dr Tahir contributing S$300,000 each, and Grab Singapore contributing the remaining S$60,000.

In total, S$660,000 will be disbursed to primary and secondary school students living in flats under the Public Rental Scheme, to help them with the cost of buying meals while on home-based learning.

However, they have to be part of a household with at least one Singapore citizen living in units under the public rental scheme to qualify.

Eligible students may visit cdc.org.sg and use the district checker to find out which CDC to email to sign up for the scheme. They will need to provide some personal details and have a Grab account to sign up. The sign-up period will last until Apr 27.

COMPLEMENTING MOE’S SCHOOL MEALS PROGRAMME

Students will receive S$55 worth of GrabFood vouchers in S$5 denominations, which have to be used in full as there will be no refund given for unused value. 

The vouchers are valid until May 31.

Once students have signed up, it will take less than three days for the vouchers to reach them, said Ms Low.

While S$55 may not seem like much over the remaining three weeks of the planned circuit breaker, Ms Low said the Student Meals Scheme was meant to complement the Ministry of Education’s (MOE’s) school meals programme.

The Education Ministry said on Monday that students on MOE’s financial assistance scheme will receive meals subsidies regardless of whether they return to school during the full home-based learning period. 

READ: School meal subsidies extended to needy students who don't return to school during home-based learning period

“We announced (the Student Meals Scheme) a day after the school meals programme, because that already provided some level of support for FAS (financial assistance scheme) students,” said Ms Low.

“We wanted to make sure each of the students staying in rental blocks would be provided further support in case the school meals programme resource was spread too thinly within the family.”

While the mayors were “mindful” that smaller voucher denominations could give students more flexibility in buying meals, it was also more “cumbersome” for the users as they would have to make more transactions with more vouchers, said Ms Low.

The mayors designed the system with the idea that students would be making multiple purchases to maximise its value, she said.

This scheme would benefit food and beverage (F&B) merchants in the heartlands, added Ms Low, as Grab Singapore would waive commission fees for self-pick-up orders during this period.

“We want to also use the opportunity to benefit F&B merchants in the heartlands, whether it is in the coffee shop or in the hawker centre,” she said.

On why Grab Singapore decided to have students pick up their food instead of having them delivered, managing director Yee Wee Tang said that many merchants traditionally depend on walk-ins for food orders.

“For these merchants, it’s important to have a self-pick-up option so that their regular patrons can continue to support them during this time.

“In addition, self-pick-up enables consumers who would like to pick up their orders on their own to pre-order the meals and only walk out to collect it when it is almost ready,” he said, adding that this will reduce consumers’ time spent outdoors.

READ: As COVID-19 hits F&B sector, calls emerge for delivery apps to lower commission fees

READ: F&B businesses to receive support for food delivery orders with new Enterprise Singapore booster package

NEED TO INCREASE OUTREACH

Other than the five mayors – Ms Low Yen Ling, Dr Maliki Osman, Dr Teo Ho Pin, Ms Denise Phua and Mr Desmond Choo – there have also been dedicated teams working round-the-clock “in a race against time” to organise the scheme.

This means daily online meetings between the five mayors and creating numerous chat groups with the CDCs’ partners to iron out the details of the scheme.

This includes working out the information they require from students and going through the process of how the students can download the Grab app and sign up for the scheme.

Currently, each of the five CDCs has two dedicated staff members to handle the influx of emails from students, with two more to coordinate with Grab Singapore.

However, there is still a need to increase outreach, as the CDCs “hope to benefit as many students as early as possible”, said Ms Low.

Other than the CDCs’ press release, notices will be put up at rental blocks. The CDCs will also inform MOE of their programme, she added.

On whether the CDCs would consider increasing the amount distributed to students should the circuit breaker be extended, Ms Low noted that the CDCs “stand ready” to use their resources and the support of their corporate partners to introduce initiatives to “provide the necessary support” to the needy depending on how the situation develops.

In addition, they are prepared to use all sorts of online meeting tools to “compress the timeline of generating new initiatives” to roll them out in a timely manner, she said.

FUTURE PLANS
 
This is the first time the CDCs are using electronic means to distribute vouchers and the technology may continue to be used to disburse vouchers in the future.

But this will be tailored according to the target group. 

“At the end of the day, we want to take a resident-centric approach. We will use technology where relevant to better serve our residents,” said Ms Low.

Other than the Student Meals Scheme, there is more that residents can look forward to. 

An upcoming scheme announced during Budget this year will provide free meals and drinks for vulnerable families islandwide. This comes amid an economic slowdown that has hit heartland food joints and coffee shops hard.

This joint community and corporate effort is part of the spirit of Singapore Together in action, said Ms Low.

“(This will) shield the disadvantaged against the force of COVID-19 and this will fortify our society’s resilience,” she said.

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Source: CNA/cc

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