Dishing out dignity

Updated: 2013-04-15 16:33

By Jaime Koh (China Daily)

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The management consultant was formerly executive director at Restaurant Association of Singapore, senior manager at Coopers & Lybrand Consultant and foundry manager at William Cook PLC.

Setting up Dignity Kitchen has been challenging, to say the least. Among the challenges include fund raising, building a reliable team, cash flow and scouting for a suitable location. But the biggest challenge of all, which Dignity Kitchen still faces today, is perception.

Koh recounts the early days of Dignity Kitchen. "I had my staff wearing badges that say "I am deaf", or "I am blind" or "I have Down Syndrome". I thought it would make the customers more understanding of their individual situation.

"But business was bad. I decided to remove the badges. After that, sales went up," Koh says, shaking his head.

"The public still has a negative perception of these people. But once you remove the labels, there's nothing to tell the public about who these people are, the stigma is removed," Koh says.

In addition to providing an opportunity for the disabled and disadvantaged to earn their independence, Dignity Kitchen also provides daily lunch treats for the elderly, from the various homes in Singapore. After a tour of the city, which Dignity Kitchen arranges, the groups stop by for lunch.

"The only condition I have is that the old folks must enjoy themselves and they must eat their fill," Koh says.

It is not unusual for Koh to fork out money for these activities. Instead of securing sponsorships for these activities first, he arranges them first before seeking sponsorship.

"Some months, I may be able to get 80 percent sponsorship, other months, maybe less than 50 percent," Koh says. Still he insists on doing it.

"It's not the money. For many of these old folks, it's probably the only time they get to leave the home and see Singapore," he says. Some of them have not been out of their houses for years.

Koh was beaming when he told China Daily that the loss for the previous month was "only about S$6,000 ($4,847)". "I'll be able to break even in June," he says.