At a time when F&B businesses are bleeding and desperately thinking of ways to survive, singer Chen Diya’s Sanity Coffee café is giving back to the medical community who are working tirelessly around the clock by delivering coffee to healthcare workers at the frontline.
For the past three weeks, Diya, who is one-half of local singing duo The Freshman, has been making coffee drops to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), as well as KK Women's and Children's Hospital and Singapore General Hospital, to give COVID-19 frontline workers hugs in the form of warm cuppas.
“There’s so much sad news recently, so we wanted to do something positive. And to me, a cup of coffee is like a cup of sanity. There’s something very warm and comforting about it, like a hug in a cup,” Diya says of her #SanityHugsInACup initiative.
Initially part of a project started by Restaurant Labyrinth chef and owner LG Han to send food to healthcare professionals at NCID, #SanityHugsInACup was so well-received that it has taken a life of its own.
The 34-year-old tells 8days.sg that thanks to the outpouring of love and support — both in cash and kind — from her friends and customers, she has enough to cover her coffee drops for the next 10 weeks. The singer has done seven drops, delivering around 84 cups of coffee each time.
“Though it’s just 84 cups of coffee, we put a lot of heart into them. Every shot of coffee and drop of milk that goes in is filled with love,” says Diya, adding that the icing on the cake is the handwritten messages of hope and thanks on the cups to the frontline heroes. Some of her artsy friends who have pitched in include Kit Chan, Felicia Chin, Jeffrey Xu, and The Freshman’s Carrie Yeo.
“Friends who received the coffee told me that they are very touched [by the gesture] and that some of nurses teared when saw the messages,” shares Diya. “We all need the encouragement ‘cos it’s what keeps us going. And now that I have the donations, I also cannot give up.”
She adds, “I hope this will inspire other specialty coffee shops to start their own runs. Even if you are a small neighbourhood café, you can do mini coffee drops to Public Health Preparedness Clinics ‘cos they are the very first line of defence. It could just be as simple as that.”
Despite the positivity she has been spreading to the community, the past two months have been “demoralising” for Diya, to say the least. With all events at the Esplanade cancelled and staff on a 100 per cent work-from-home arrangement, Sanity Coffee, which is located at the mall, saw a 70 per cent drop in business last month.
It was dealt with another blow last Friday (Apr 3) after the government announced tighter circuit-breaker measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, including a ban on dine-in services in F&B establishments. As a result, the Esplanade has decided to close from April 6 to May 5.
Prior to this announcement, Diya had planned to reduce Sanity Coffee’s operating hours and take on deliveries herself on an “ad hoc, case-by-case basis”. The coffee joint isn’t working with any food delivery company as it “doesn’t make sense” financially due to the huge cut that they take.
“I’ve already done all the promos and marketing that I can, but we are reeling from new blows every day,” laments Diya. “It feels like we are trying to run as hard as we can but we're still in the same spot. And yet, it's almost a blessing to be doing that because there are so many other businesses out there that are running as hard as they can and just going backwards because of their high overheads.”
For now, Diya’s taking it one month at a time. She’s got government wage subsidies and rental rebates to tide her over and #SanityHugsInACup to keep her positive and hopeful.
“Though Esplanade will be closed, they are allowing me and my volunteers to go in every Thursday to continue with this initiative,” shares Diya.
“I really appreciate Esplanade’s support in allowing us to keep up with this. The Esplanade team has been working super hard to make things work, both as an entertainment venue and as a mall, and they fully understand what I’m doing with the initiative. Many of the Esplanade staff also reached out to say they want to chip in, and they did!”
Photos: Sanity Coffee