Police quell rice rage as supplies for elderly run out
Police were called to maintain order in Wong Tai Sin yesterday after hundreds of outraged elderly people, who had queued for hours in the rain for a free bag of rice, were told supplies had run out.
The So Loi Ching Association, a Buddhist group, had intended to hand out 500 five kilogram bags of rice to those aged 65 and over. The gesture was to mark Buddha's birthday.
The distribution was scheduled to begin at 9am, but many elderly braved heavy rain and began to queue outside the community centre distribution venue from about 4am.
By 7am, there were about 800 in the queue and the organisers decided to open the doors and begin proceedings.
However, when the 500 bags ran out, some of those who had missed out refused to leave, and started shouting in protest and jostling one another.
Police had to be called to the venue to maintain order.
'The free rice allows us to save about $20 and gives us something extra to eat for breakfast,' said one woman who missed out.
The crowd only dispersed after each received a gift of $10.
The association said in future it planned to deliver the rice directly to the homes of the single elderly instead.
The tradition of giving free rice to the elderly has long been criticised as it often requires them to queue for hours in the open air.
Last September, eight people collapsed from heat exhaustion while queuing for free rice to celebrate the Yu Lan Festival.
Seven required hospital treatment.
Secretary for Home Affairs Lam Woon-kwong said the Government had held talks with organisers of rice giveaways to urge them to use more sensible methods.
However, he said that since traditions had to be respected, the authorities would try to provide help where necessary to ensure the safety of the elderly participants.