Operation Santa Claus

Gourmet food for refugees and asylum seekers

Charity, hotels and volunteers organise meals and counselling services for forgotten ones

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2013, 4:34am

Life for refugees and asylum seekers has been made more bearable and dignified by a charity that serves them food from a luxury hotel.

People of various ethnicities visit Christian Action's centre in Chungking Mansions for meals, counselling and education services, or just to sit and watch football.

The Tsim Sha Tsui centre serves three meals a day, six days a week to people who have fled their countries and are hoping to be accepted by a third country one day. They cannot work while in Hong Kong.

"We started with addressing their basic needs - food in your belly and a place to sleep for the night," said Julee Allen, manager of the organisation's humanitarian services department.

Food donors are mainly hotels, restaurants and other food outlets. They donate through other charities such as Foodlink Foundation and Feeding Hong Kong, which ensure the food quality when transporting it.

One of their donors, Kowloon Shangri-la hotel, has staff volunteers bringing in fruit and pastries and helping with meal distribution on a weekly basis on top of donations to Foodlink.

Both Christian Action and Foodlink are among Operation Santa Claus' 18 beneficiaries this year. The hotel is one of the donors to the holiday appeal jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

Christian Action's refugee programme has been helping people like Sifa, 21, who fled Sri Lanka four years ago because of the civil war.

"I don't have much freedom in Hong Kong, but I feel grateful being here because it's safer than my country." He is waiting to be resettled in another country.

During the wait, many refugees and asylum seekers face financial and other difficulties. "Our focus here is to help make living here more bearable and dignified," Allen said.

Shangri-la's volunteer programme at the centre was initiated after the hotel's general manager Timothy Wright visited the centre several months ago.

"He thought we could take it a step further and do something more [to help]," said Patsy Chan Mei-ling, the hotel's communications director.

Many hotel employees enjoy helping. "We always take things for granted," one said. "It's a blessing to be able to help people."