Charities eye more fresh food supply
Charities are exploring new ways to increase the supply of fresh and nutritious food such as vegetables, meat and fish to people receiving food aid.
Lau Kim-wun, acting district co-ordinator of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, said charities running food bank services were jointly exploring ways to reduce reliance on canned food and increase the proportion of fresh food in each food pack given to the underprivileged.
'Those who seek our assistance, as they are very poor, they have difficulties making ends meet, so nutritious food is a luxury,' Lau said.
'We want to provide more nutritious food. A major difficulty is how much we have to buy and how to store it. We don't have space.'
Canned food - ranging from fish, pork, beef, beans, creamy corn and soup, as well as instant noodles - account for around one-third of the food charities provide to the poor.
The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals set up the Food for All programme in February 2009 after receiving HK$12 million from the Social Welfare Department.
It has provided assistance to more than 16,000 people. Many of the families receiving food assistance live on around HK$8,000 a month.
The charity provides food assistance to low-income families in West Kowloon.
It has basic food packs for families who can cook at home, and simple packs for the homeless and those who cannot cook.
Poor families in other areas receive assistance through the food bank's relief fund that channels to Tung Wah outlets. A recent report on the global wealthy found that one in six families with children often suffer hunger in Hong Kong. The report described those children as in a state of high food insecurity.
In light of the dire situation confronting these families, the South China Morning Post's The Heart of Hong Kong Relief Fund is raising money 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 the People's Food Bank of St James' Settlement.
Donations will be distributed equally to the two beneficiaries.
A basic weekly food pack, which recipients take home once a week, has rice, eggs, noodles, energy drinks, and canned food. It also has vegetable and meat coupons and a coupon for a meal at Cafe De Coral or Fairwood.
Food pack sizes depend on the size of recipients' family. Those with babies and children will have milk formula in their pack.
The simple pack comprises of cup noodles, biscuits, canned food, energy drinks and fast-food chain meal coupons and six meal coupons for microwaved food at Circle K outlets in West Kowloon.
Lau said: 'We tried to have fresh vegetables at our food bank for the beneficiaries to pick up, but it doesn't work well. There were times we had too little and disappoint them. There were also times we had too much, but we had no place to store the vegetables.'
Tung Wah is working with 13 vegetable and meat vendors in West Kowloon. Food assistance recipients who take the coupons to the vendors can choose the vegetable and meats they want.
'We phased out some because they were rude to the beneficiaries,' Lau said.
'Those who are working with us are generous people. The scale of our business is small and it takes [the vendors more] time because the recipients are paying with coupons. But they are patient and helpful.'
Tung Wah and other charities that provide food assistance want to expand their services, but they must resolve some hurdles.
'We have to be very careful in choosing the right partners; they must be reliable and financially sound,' Lau said. 'We also have to negotiate suitable terms with those stores, because our goal is to provide the beneficiaries with nutritious food.'
The amount, in Hong Kong dollars, given to the Social Welfare Department in 2008 to implement five food assistance projects
St James' Settlement's People's Food Bank
Established in 2003, the service provides food to people in need on a short-term basis, serving rice, noodles, canned food, frozen meat, vegetables, hot meals and baby milk formula to around 1,500 people a day.
Tung Wah Group of Hospitals' Food for All assistance service
Food for All has been providing short-term help to the needy since 2009. Some 165,000 people get rice, noodles, biscuits and powdered milk, as well as coupons for fresh meat, vegetables, fruits and cooked meals. Customised menus are also available.
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