Can free meals for those in need to build stronger communities? Free Food for All believes so.
You won’t realise the power of food until you hear the story of this Singaporean man. Nizar Shariff--who usually goes by “Big Bear” for his tall 1.85m figure--uses food to connect people across Singapore and reignite the ‘kampung (village) spirit’ in their communities.
Before we continue, let’s get to know who Nizar was before he started his movement.
Nizar was a successful businessman who was suddenly struck with the desire to do something meaningful. In search of an answer, he started looking through the charity sector. It didn’t take long for him to have found his calling.
He noticed that many organisations regularly distribute cooked food for the poor. However, the food was either vegetarian or non-halal.
So in 2014, Nizar founded a charity called Free Food for All (FFFA) which serves balanced, halal meals to the less fortunate. It tries to fill the gap for daily halal meals without discriminating the receivers. Anyone who needs food can request for it, regardless of their race or religion.
Since its formation, FFFA has given out more than 320,000 meals. But it has evolved into more than just feeding people in need. FFFA also aims to strengthen communities using food as the bonding currency.
“Food is the glue that binds us all together. It opens doors. It creates opportunities. It builds bonds and relationships so that we can all be contributing members of society,” Nizar said.
Beneficiary turns into a leader
One of their former food beneficiaries, Haslina Manaf, is now a meal manager for her community. Haslina and her family were once received the FFFA’s Daily Dinner Delivery programme.
When Nizar discovered that she enjoyed cooking, he asked her to manage the meals for the residents in her neighbourhood. In exchange, she will receive a fee enough to buy groceries and other household needs for her family.
Not only that this role has enhanced her relationship with her neighbours, but it has also added to her role as a grassroots leader. Meeting her neighbours receiving free meals with smiles on their faces lift up her day. The foods she gives has encouraged even the elderly who used to live in isolation, as they now come out from their homes to socialise.
“Previously, they were very lonely and moody. Now, when I see them, they start to wave from afar. I have seen changes in them. They are more confident, jovial and outspoken,” she said.
FFFA’s food distribution will also not be possible if not from the help and commitment of its volunteers.
Their volunteers come from all ages, young and old. Take the 74-year-old retiree Lee Teck Guan for example. He finds satisfaction when he brings food to his neighbours who are ill, weak, or immobile. Like fate, his service has been a great help for a woman neighbour who lost her leg to diabetes.
As a practical man that he is, he also feels benefited from delivering the foods as he is motivated to climb the stairs--which is a form of exercise.
A major challenge for FFFA is the fund to keep the food programme running. So far, Nizar has been covering most of the costs with his own savings. He hopes that public awareness will inspire others to join this project, so fewer people will go hungry.
“Free Food for All is a community project for the community, by the community,” Nizar said. “It creates channels, opportunities. It empowers people. So that they, in turn, would help others.”
This article was first published on Our Better World