More families turn to food banks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 August, 2011, 12:00am


Social worker Connie Ng Man-yee has never been as busy as she is now, even though manpower at the St James Settlement's food bank has increased several-fold since it was established in 2003.

A record inflation rate of 7.9 per cent in July - largely due to higher rents and food prices - means more low-income families have turned to the food banks for help, prompting a significant surge in new applications.

Food staples such as milk powder and frozen meat are in high demand.

'New applications have to wait for a week to meet social workers for assessment, and orders to meat merchants are changed from once to twice a week,' Ng said as she penned an appointment request on a book without spare space.

Responding to the harsh reality confronting the poor families and their children, the South China Morning Post's The Heart of Hong Kong Relief Fund begins a campaign today to raise funds for the city's major food banks.

The campaign aims to raise funds for the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals' Food For All - Short-term Food Assistance Service and St James Settlement's People's Food Bank.

The Heart of Hong Kong Relief Fund is an ongoing initiative. The food campaign is the fund's first project.

Demand for milk powder is high, Ng says. More than 1,000 families are benefitting from the food bank's milk powder service since its launch in May.

Besides frozen meat and milk powder, the food bank also provides rice, noodles and canned food to the families and individuals who need them. Low-income families can go to the food bank twice a week to take groceries home. The food bank also provides hot meals for poor elderly people in Shek Kip Mei and children from deprived families in Sham Shui Po.

'The problem is very serious. Poor families have problems making ends meet. As a result, their children tend to be shorter and thinner because of malnutrition.

'That is why we started the milk powder service. We also provide packaged milk for these children to bring to school. Quite a number of these families have neither a fridge nor a rice cooker. Their food staple is noodles because they can go to convenient stores nearby for hot water to cook the noodles,' Ng said.

A recent Oxfam report on global wealth found one in six families with children often suffers hunger. The report described those children as in a state of 'high food insecurity' and said they are among those who are hit hardest by rising food prices.

Cliff Buddle, acting editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post, said: 'It is disturbing that so many children in low-income families do not have enough to eat and are unable to afford nutritious food.

'Rather than just reporting on the issue, we really wanted to do something about it, with the help of our readers. By supporting the food banks we can ensure the children are not going to be hungry again.'

Buddle added: 'We identify the most appropriate non-governmental organisations to support and disburse funding only on a specific, accountable project basis that can be reported on before and after the relief effort.'

For Chan Suk-ling, a recipient of the St James food bank service, the supplies are a big relief. 'My husband is suffering from chronic illness and is unable to work. I have two kids to feed. There is rice, noodles, canned food and frozen meat I can take home. They can't cover all the food we need, but it is a big help for us.'