The Canteen Stall with A Cause: My NoNNa’s
By Zara Karimi (18A01A)
“I started My NoNNa’s after 22 years of working in the corporate sector, I wanted to do something meaningful with my time. And here we are,” recounts Ms. Tan.
Despite being located in the rightmost corner of the Y5-6 canteen, My NoNNa’s remains eye-catching. From the small cooler filled with Italian sodas, to the brightly coloured construction paper signs festooning the stall front, My NoNNa’s is immediately distinct. Yet, there is still much more to My NoNNa’s than meets the eye.
Started in 2015 at the St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI) holding campus by Ms. Geraldine Tan, My NoNNa’s is actually a social enterprise that employs intellectually disabled individuals.
It is no secret that intellectual disability is heavily stigmatised in our society. A 2016 survey by the National Council of Social Service found that 62% of intellectually disabled individuals felt that they were not included, accepted, given opportunities to contribute, or reach their potential by society. Furthermore, another 2016 survey by local philanthropic organization Lien Foundation found that only 10% of Singaporeans felt comfortable interacting with intellectually disabled individuals.
As such, there are limited avenues for intellectually disabled individuals to obtain employment post-graduation. Often, their only option becomes staying at home and being taken care of by their families. This robs them of not only their agency but also their self-worth, and results in the deterioration of their mental health, due to a lack of purpose and meaningful social interaction outside their homes.
After witnessing a close family friend regress in this manner, Ms. Tan set up My NoNNa’s, aiming to solve the problem at its root. My NoNNa’s aims to employ intellectually disabled individuals in their twenties, who are usually fresh out of school, so as to provide them with a degree of financial and social independence.
As a social enterprise, every part of My NoNNa’s business model serves a purpose.
“The RI stall is managed by the very first My NoNNa’s team at SJI, so a lot of our regular patrons are old SJI boys who remember us, because they graduated and came here.” says Ms. Tan. Running a canteen stall provides patrons and intellectually disabled stall operators with the opportunity to engage in casual social interaction. In the long run, the benefits go both ways: intellectually challenged individuals benefit from the stimulus that these positive micro-interactions provide, while in the eyes of patrons, stigma surrounding intellectual disability is reduced.
Furthermore, the rent of a canteen stall is not as high as a stall at a hawker centre, or a restaurant. This lets the My NoNNa’s team to focus on the welfare of its stall operators as their primary operating cost. In addition to making sure that all employees are paid a living wage, My NoNNa’s also makes contributions to their CPF accounts.
“Even the food we make,” explains Ms. Tan. “Italian cuisine is relatively methodical, and so it’s easier for a intellectually disabled person to follow a fixed set of steps to prepare these dishes.”
While My NoNNa’s is most famously known among RI students for its fresh waffles, they often switch up their Italian menu to include a broader range of western dishes. This month’s additions to the menu include two chicken dishes, pictured below.
Looking to the future, Ms. Tan has several exciting plans in place for My NoNNa’s, from catering and party services, to an app that allows you to order food via your phones and have it ready for pickup at the stall.
“We are collaborating with app developer BevEat to develop a service that allows you to order food via your phones,” explains Ms. Tan. “You pay us, say, $10, and we’ll load it onto your phone as credit. Then you can order and have your meal ready for pickup between lessons. The intellectually disabled stall operators sometimes have a hard time dealing with change, so this lets them focus on preparing food.”
To download the app and sample some of My NoNNa’s hearty Italian fare, do head on down to their stall during your breaks. Alternatively, you can check out their Instagram and Facebook page. My NoNNa’s may also be looking for volunteers from RI to promote their causes, so look out for more information.
“At the end of the day, it’s really about being a part of the community here at RI,” says Ms. Tan, as parting. “We want to be known for our food, but remembered for our people.”