Feeding vulnerable groups through meal claim and donation platform

Taxi drivers, foreigners and students stranded in Singapore because of border closures are among those the platform is helping.

Special needs teacher Yeo Koon Long picked up programming a few years ago because he wanted to help children with autism communicate more effectively through technology.

At a previous school, he realised that although the students could not speak, they were "very cognitively able" and could communicate through typing or pointing at pictures on an Apple iPad.

Mr Yeo, 30, wanted to create a programme that could help them fulfil simple tasks, such as ordering food on their own.

However, the first beneficiaries of his new-found skill turned out to be a very different group.

In 2017, Mr Yeo launched meal claim and donation platform Secondmeal, which was inspired by cafes overseas, where patrons can buy an additional meal or drink for someone in need.

"I wanted to promote this system in Singapore, but was afraid people would abuse it to claim free food. I realised there was a need for a digital system to prevent this."

He collaborated with non-profit group Happy People Helping People (HPHP), which supports elderly beneficiaries, many of whom are cardboard collectors.

The group usually distributes donations, such as supermarket vouchers and essential items, to the elderly beneficiaries. It was a natural step to add meal donations into the mix.

Working with HPHP volunteers, Mr Yeo distributed QR codes that allow the elderly to claim free meals at about 30 stalls around the island, a third of which are halal.

Meals are paid for by donors and tracked via a status bar on the Secondmeal website. This shows how many meals have been donated that month and if there is a surplus or shortfall. Donors can also check when their meals were claimed.

"There is a lot of transparency, so people see where their donation is going and feel like the system is accountable," says Mr Yeo.

After running Secondmeal for three years, he began wondering about the future direction of the platform when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Donations poured in and other non-profit groups wanted to collaborate.

Secondmeal began working with other initiatives to provide meals for other vulnerable groups.

These include taxi drivers whose income has taken a hit, and foreigners such as social visit pass holders and students stranded in Singapore because of border closures.

Even as the coronavirus abates, Mr Yeo has found a second wind. He intends to expand the pool of beneficiaries as well as rope in more independent, family-run hawker stalls as meal providers to give their business a boost.

"The goal is to continue feeding more people with the system," he says.

About the series

This series is in collaboration with The Sunday Times to showcase people in Singapore who have come together to uplift the community in these trying times.