SINGAPORE: In response to concerns that the price of the food available at food pantry vending machines has risen, the Food Bank Singapore (FBSG) – which operates the machines to assist disadvantaged Singaporeans – has revealed that prices have increased to ensure that the programme is sustainable in the long term.

FBSG’s Food Pantry 2.0 programme serves as an “automated platform to dispense emergency food aid 24/7 to those in need,” according to the non-profit’s website. The FBSG identifies disadvantaged clients through family service centres and other social service agencies and provides them with cards loaded with free credits to redeem food from the vending machines they operate.

One beneficiary, a stall assistant named Ms Chen (transliterated from Mandarin), told Shin Min Daily News that she could purchase milo and ketchup sets for just $2 in the past when she was in need. Claiming that the price for such sets has increased to $3.50, Ms Chen said that she has turned to supermarkets, which can be cheaper given the new prices at the food pantry vending machines.

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Another man named Mr Hong claimed on social media that the vending machines have gone from selling three items for $2 to one item for $3.50, claiming that it even sells cooking oil for this price, though it is sold for $1.80 at the supermarket.

FBSG has attributed the price increase to a lower volume of donated food. Revealing that it now receives only 600,000 kilograms of food, compared to the 1.6 million kilograms of food donations it received in 2020, the charity said that the lower volume of donations could stem from the impact of “donor fatigue”.

The non-profit added that cash donations have also been declining since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and has fallen by about 50 per cent, with annual declines of 10 to 20 per cent.

FBSG noted that its food pantry 2.0 project has become very popular since its launch, with significant demand. It said that when volunteers replenish the items at the vending machine, they are quickly redeemed.

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Given the demand and to maintain the programme in the long run, the team has increased the points required to redeem food in 2022, and the price has been raised from $2 to $3.50.

FBSG has distributed 2,000 cards to people in need so far, and the cards are automatically topped up with points equivalent to $50 every month. With the price increase for the food items, beneficiaries can use the vending machines 14 times a month to redeem the $3.50 before the $50 runs out.

The vending machines offer various types of food, including canned sardines, biscuits, milk, and instant noodles, for purchase by beneficiaries. The machines also accept various cashless payment methods, including credit card and EZ-Link card payments.