KUSHAAN KHADEPAUN is no ordinary teenager. The 16-year-old self-professed foodie who loves cooking and sports, recently founded The Food Canvas, a charity portal that streamlines the process of food donation in Singapore.
His dream? That no individual goes to sleep hungry.
His charity portal is especially welcome at a time like this: while COVID-19 has disrupted many charities, The Food Canvas was barely impacted as most of the transactions are made online and require minimal face-to-face interactions. And what started off as a small-scale initiative among his family, friends and neighbours eventually grew to a solid network of beneficiaries and charity organisations such as The Food Bank, Food From The Heart, and Hope Centre Singapore.
We speak to him about his vision for his charity, and the hurdles and help he encountered along the way.
Congrats on this great initiative, Kushaan! Tell us about yourself.
I moved to Singapore from India in 2013. Ever since I was a child, I was always inclined towards exploring different types of cuisines. By the time I was eight, I would help my mum in the kitchen with cooking. I hope to be a culinary entrepreneur and work in the F&B industry someday.
What drew you to volunteer work?
I was inspired by Chef Vikas Khanna, who’s also a judge on MasterChef India. I read how, during COVID-19, he started the ‘Feed India Campaign’ to donate food rations to many poor people across India. I then began volunteering with a group of female volunteers in my condo, making flatbreads for migrant workers in 2020 when they were hard hit by the COVID-19 lockdown.
What inspired you to start a charity portal specialising in food donation?
During my summer holidays, I was browsing through charity organisation websites to donate food rations and other tangible goods. Apart from experiencing difficulties in finding their wish lists, it was also hard for me to believe there were low-income and needy families in Singapore who went to sleep hungry and couldn’t afford to eat meals.
That’s when an idea popped into my mind, of building a platform where I can showcase food donation wish lists that are urgently required in one website. It could be accessed by the general public and donors across Singapore. I wanted to make the donation process faster, efficient and much easier.
How does the Food Canvas work?
We operate by collecting all donated dry rations six months before their expiry date. The donors will donate the dry rations by placing orders online via RedMart or any other online grocery stores and have them delivered to my address.
From there, we organise all of the received items into categories like condiments, oils, snacks and dry rations. These food items are then packed into several cartons and transported to charity centres and warehouses storing food rations, before being distributed amongst the community for the needy.
What sort of challenges have you faced with this charity portal?
In the start, it was initially difficult for us to build partnerships with other charity organisations. It required a lot of perseverance and effort to convince them to work with The Food Canvas.
The second challenge we had was promotion, as budgets were very low and I had to focus on growing it organically. My family and friends helped in promoting it initially.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt while working on this charity portal?
One of the biggest lessons is to have patience and consistency. During the initial phase of the project, our website wasn’t getting enough views, and charities were taking weeks to respond. Thus, my top priority was to build a better website and sort out the SEO, before contacting other organisations.
What’s your proudest achievement so far?
We’ve donated more than 150 kgs in food rations to numerous charity organisations across Singapore. Furthermore, our beneficiary in Myanmar bought more than 100kg worth of food rations, which include vegetables, snacks and rice, to feed villagers who had not eaten for days due to the current crisis in Myanmar.
What’s one thing about food waste that you wish everyone understood?
Millions of tons of food are being generated per year and almost one-third of this food is being wasted globally. With this, lots of water, agricultural land and other natural resources used in the production of food are also being wasted.
That one-third could be channeled to the 821 million individuals who don’t have access to food. More than 44 percent of wastage is residential, followed by restaurants and hotels. Everyone can take part to reduce unnecessary food wastage in their households by not overspending or over consuming, and raising more awareness regarding this particular topic.
If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be a…
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