Living out the call to “find a need and meet it”, Pope Jai Thai’s boss, Daniel Teh, has given out more than 40,000 meals since COVID-19 hit Singapore.
When the Circuit Breaker kicked in on Apr 7, Thai restaurant Pope Jai Thai’s operations were disrupted—in fact, things came to a standstill when eateries had to close, as part of the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
Although it was a tough period for his business, owner Daniel Teh was moved by the needs of many Singaporeans affected by this disruption—from low-income families to people who lost their jobs overnight, to the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Daniel felt that he could play a part in helping these people, to ensure that at least they would not have to worry about their daily meals. This was right in line with his gift and calling: providing great food.
Creating great-tasting food and giving back to society are two things Daniel lives for. Pope Jai Thai is part of the PJ Group, a local social enterprise founded by the 32-year-old. The name “Pope Jai Thai” means “comfort heart” in the Thai language, and the business’ slogan reads, “From the heart, for a cause”. He staffs his team with individuals with special needs, and actively advocates for understanding and kindness towards those who are different.
Besides the restaurant, Daniel also founded PJ Cares, a community outfit which serves to impact and meet the needs of Pope Jai Thai’s eight different beneficiary groups and their caregivers through advocacy, outreach, and empowerment. Both entities are part of PJ Group.
Daniel has hired across eight groups of beneficiaries: those with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health issues, the deaf, the visually-impaired, youth-at-risk, the disadvantaged, and the vulnerable. Many are referred to Pope Jai Thai by Touch Community Services, Society for the Physically Disabled, Project Dignity, and SG Enable, a government agency that enables people with disabilities to function independently. Pope Jai Thai is creating social impact by offering employment and training opportunities to those with special needs.
PUTTING FOOD ON THEIR TABLE
“Instead of providing financial assistance, I thought, ‘Why don’t we put food on the table for the disadvantaged and vulnerable households?’,” Daniel told City News.
He shared his idea with Lin Jun Xian, a pastor at City Harvest Church, and decided to pilot this initiative with some other church members. Pope Jai Thai provided bento meals while volunteers helped with the deliveries.
“We found that really meaningful and wanted to reach out to more people,” Daniel said. After discovering that CHC was helping members who were facing financial difficulties through the Care Fund, Daniel reached out to City Harvest Community Services Association to offer complimentary meals to applicants of the Fund.
That was the beginning of the program “Rice & Shine” under PJ Cares, which aims to provide hot, nutritional meals to the underprivileged communities and those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. “We aim to lighten the burden of the community by putting rice on the table, creating smiles that shine on people’s faces,” he explained.
Under this initiative, Pope Jai Thai has also provided meals to beneficiaries of social organizations including People’s Association, MINDS and AWWA.
Running the program has been challenging. Financially, Daniel had to tap into the emergency funds under PJ Cares to support the beneficiaries in this time of crisis. “It is okay to earn less, as long as we can continue to feed those in need. As we do that, I believe that provision will come.”
In order to prepare the meals for the beneficiaries, which was on top of their usual workload, Daniel and his staff had to put in additional working hours. He said, “We have had to come in at 6am daily to prepare for the lunch bentos and cut down on our afternoon break to get the dinner bentos ready.”
In addition, Daniel and his chefs had to constantly source for new food suppliers and design creative new menus so that the recipients could enjoy a variety of dishes.
“We hope to continue giving out bentos until COVID-19 stops,” says Daniel. To him, giving back to the community is a calling from God: he believes that everything that his business is doing should ultimately serve the needs of the community.
Daniel appeals to others to join his cause by participating in the Dine For A Cause, a pay-it-forward scheme to provide meals to its beneficiaries. Diners can purchase tokens ranging from $5.50 to $22 to support the cause. This will help the staff with disabilities at Pope Jai Thai, the delivery personnel as well as the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups supported by PJ Cares.
Pope Jai Thai is located at Scape, 2 Orchard Link, #03-03, Singapore 237978. For more information, visit https://www.popejai.com/social-arm.