Cover Meals prepared by Table & Apron for underserved communities through the Food Relief Project

Spearheaded by Zoee Wong, this project aims to tackle two pandemic-related problems simultaneously

As the pandemic stretches on indefinitely, many underprivileged communities continue to be crippled by hunger-related issues. Malnutrition, starvation and other health problems are only some of the woes faced by members of the B40 category in these troubled times.

At the same time, local food businesses are suffering. Battered by economic pressure, many of them are forced to reduce salaries, cut jobs, or worst of all, shutter for good. This loss of livelihoods creates negative economic effects, which ripple through society.

Malaysian chef Zoee Wong found herself disheartened by all this. She wondered, what if there was a way to address both these problems at the same time?

That idea led her to start the Food Relief Project (FRP), an initiative that aims to feed the hungry with wholesome meals by channelling donated funds to local F&B businesses.

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“I am a chef. I believe in feeding people, and feeding people well. Part of the responsibility of being a good chef is cultivating an awareness of time and place. Food businesses do not exist in vacuums; we exist in communities. And right now, our communities are really struggling. People are going hungry,” Wong asserts.

“Restaurant workers have the skills and knowledge to provide affordable, high-quality meals. The snag, however, is that our industry continues to experience huge economic losses. That is where FRP comes in.”

Wong’s initiative is supported by the Food Aid Foundation and is modelled after HelpKitchen, a similar project she had cooked for when she was based in San Francisco.

Through FRP, participating businesses cook nutritious meals at the cost of RM11 per meal, funded through donations. The Food Aid Foundation then distributes these foods fairly to food-insecure communities, most of whom are in the B40 category.

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“We’ve just completed our first month of the programme and are going into our second, making adjustments to operate more effectively and efficiently. We're thinking a lot on our feet and learning as we go. Thankfully, restaurant folks are good at working on the fly!” Wong says.

Currently, they are partnered with five restaurants, namely Akar Dining, Edju Omakase, Li Restaurant, Table & Apron, and Kopenhagen. Over the past five weeks, they have successfully served over 1,500 meals to over 20 welfare homes and communities. The initiative has also helped support over 40 full-time and part-time employees of small food businesses.

“There are also intangible ‘achievements’," Wong notes. "Behind each of these numbers are people whose lives we have an opportunity to make a tiny bit better, even if it's for just a moment. This project has been incredibly meaningful because we're working towards a vision of the future we’d like to imagine for our nation, one where we're all able to thrive on reciprocal generosity and goodwill."

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Wong will next be involved with Kek Untuk Kita, a fundraising festival in support of FRP from Sep 1-15. It will involve top pastry chefs and bakers like Wong and Laura Ng, who are the organisers and lead participants. A portion of the profits raised will be donated to the Food Relief Project. Celebrities like Ili Sulaiman and Vanessa Tevi are also lending their voices to the cause.

“I'm thankful to be part of an incredible network of leading chefs and restaurateurs who are coalescing around the cause of food insecurity. It would be incredible to see restaurants continue this trajectory of providing meals to those who need it most,” says Wong.

“While I understand first hand the day-to-day challenges and constraints of operating a food business, if this was something our industry made into a norm, folded into our daily mise en place, I think it would change the way we view our work and our role in feeding the world.”

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