Singaporean hawkers cook up free meals for those in need

by Matthew Escosia
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By: AC Recio


Since April 7, the city-state of Singapore has been under “circuit breaker” – a partial lockdown implemented by the government in order to break the chain of transmissions of COVID-19. Under circuit breaker measures, all non-essential services have been ordered to stop their operations while citizens remain indoors under quarantine. Going out for errands or daily essentials is permitted, but only if the person in question is by themselves, without any companions. So, while the lockdown is effective and the intent is understandable, it has also limited the mobility of Singaporeans, affected businesses, and cut the income of workers, with some even left jobless.


Our featured #SEAtizens today are two hawkers – people who cook food in open areas called “hawker centers” and sell them at affordable prices – who were affected by the circuit breaker, Jason Chua and Hung Zhen Long. The pair co-own and manage Beng Who Cooks, a hawker stall at the Hong Lim Complex Market and Food Center. Their stall would get a steady stream of 40 to 50 orders per day before the partial lockdown was imposed, but these days they would consider it lucky if they receive even 10 orders in a day. However, this setback hasn’t stopped either of them from going to work every day. Why? Because Beng Who Cooks also cares.


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The general mood of people in Singapore is one of uncertainty. Unemployment rates are forecasted to spike during the circuit breaker period, which was originally scheduled to end on May 4 but was extended to June 1. Company-wide pay cuts are also seen as unavoidable in the current climate. So after an old friend messaged him about noticing an old man asking strangers for food at a coffee shop, Chua came up with the idea to cook food for free.

“It was heartbreaking, knowing that people are going around asking for money during this period,” said Chua in an interview with The Straits Times.

So with compassion in their hearts and spatulas in their hands, Chua and Long started the Beng Who Cares Foundation to provide food to those in need. Anyone can place their order – no questions asked – on the @bengwhocaresfoundation Instagram page before 7 PM, and the free meals will be available for pick-up the next day, with an $8 fee for deliveries.

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Co-owners Chua and Long estimate that they have given out about $500 worth of meals, however money is the last thing on their minds. “We are already making a loss, so we’ve not really been keeping count. We are just using whatever resources we have right now,” said Chua in the Straits Times interview.

They have also pleaded people to stop giving donations. “During this horrid time, we really can’t accept your money too. But what we can promise is, we are doing this for as long as we can to help whoever [is] in need,” they said in an Instagram post, offering instead an alternative way for people to aid in the cause: “Here’s how you can help; Spread the words and order for the people who need their tummy filled. All you need to do is pay for the delivery and we will prepare the food with extreme love.”

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It just goes to show that there are still a lot of people out there willing to help, even during the toughest of times. So if you’re in Singapore and you or someone you know is in need of a free meal, check out the @bengwhocaresfoundation Instagram page or visit their stall at #01-44 Hong Lim Food Centre, 531A Upper Cross St.


SEA Wave magazine’s #SEAtizens initiative is a series of inspiring stories of people in Southeast Asia who champion the human spirit by demonstrating courage, ingenuity, generosity, and selflessness amidst the current crisis.

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