World Food Price Crisis

Food bank predicts demand may double as more jobs are lost

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am

The city's major food bank expects the number of people in need of food aid will continue to grow this year as the financial crisis bites.

Michael Lai Kam-cheung, chief executive officer of St James' Settlement, warned yesterday that it could find itself feeding as many as 2,500 people if unemployment kept on rising.

In November, the People's Food Bank run by the charity was providing food to 1,020 people, nearly double the 526 it was feeding regularly in September.

'The figure grew so quickly that our rice reserve was almost running out in December,' Mr Lai said.

The food bank received a HK$2 million donation from the Hong Kong Jockey Club yesterday to support its help for the needy.

'We are so grateful for the Jockey Club's generous donation, which is critically important for us to overcome this difficult time,' he said.

Mr Lai estimated the donation would help the centre sustain its operations for two to three months.

Currently, each registered recipient at the food bank receives a 3kg bag of rice, seven tins of canned food and seven packs of instant noodles per week.

Half the recipients are from families with monthly incomes of less than HK$5,000. About one-fifth are unemployed, while another one-fifth are seeking help because of an unexpected change in their family situation. Other beneficiaries include homeless people and non-Hong Kong residents.

Mr Lai said that over the past six months, the percentage of lowincome recipients had risen by 6 percentage points, to 50 per cent.

The People's Food Bank, which was set up five years ago, found it increasingly difficult to maintain its services last year because of high inflation in the first half of the year and the impact of the financial crisis in the past few months.

Mr Lai said food prices had risen dramatically last year, but the group had seen a drop in small donations.

'Fortunately, we received more big donations from some foundations which wanted to contribute to meeting the increasing demand for food aid in this special period.'

Last year, the government pledged to earmark HK$100 million to boost short-term food assistance to the needy. Qualified food centres were invited to submit bids to provide such services.

That exercise is now complete, and the government is expected to begin providing food aid across different districts through the centres this year.

Food for thought

Of the food aid recipients, 12 per cent are aged between 16 and 29 and 7 per cent are aged above 60

Middle-aged people make up: 50%