Chope, and give food initiative for needy a boost

Boutique owner Michelle Tan is known for one thing - teaching fellow Singaporeans to "chope" food for the poor.

Now, she has a fresh challenge: stopping her groundbreaking project from fading away due to a lack of interest.

"Let's think of a way to grow this, organically or otherwise, rather than let it slowly peter out," the 41-year-old told The Straits Times.

Set up in April, Chope Food for the Needy received about 8,000 Facebook likes in its first month. But the fanbase has since grown more slowly, now standing just shy of 9,600.

Ms Tan is now determined to revive enthusiasm for the initiative - which involves customers giving hawkers extra cash to reserve food for someone who cannot afford a meal.

The vintage store owner has been working with schools, encouraging children to "chope" food for their less fortunate peers by paying more to vendors in their canteens.

She has also shared stories about students getting involved on the movement's Facebook page. For example, she wrote about a nine-year-old boy who reserved roti prata, and about secondary school teachers who were inspired by seeing their students "chope" snacks such as Milo and bao.

Some early cynicism about the movement centred on whether it was really possible for a hawker to gauge whether someone needed the free meal. Ms Tan said this is not a problem for canteen vendors.

"Students on financial assistance pay with vouchers or a card. So vendors will know and can deduct less, or just not deduct at all."

Ms Tan said she has put out a call for fresh ideas to keep the ball rolling. She is also working to get the initiative featured on a Chinese variety programme, which she hopes will reach more hawkers.

"It's hard for one person to come up with new ideas," said the mother of two, who hopes in time to recruit like-minded people to help the project.

However, she is optimistic that Chope Food for the Needy - which was picked as a good example of a ground-up movement during an exhibition accompanying this year's National Day Rally - is here to stay.

Singaporeans are "generally, basically, kind people", she added. "You may be too busy to volunteer, but you eat at a hawker centre."

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