App helps food banks and donors improve service to Hong Kong’s poorest

Data sharing platform enables hundreds of organisations to co-ordinate efforts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 10:24pm

An app is improving the city’s fragmented food support service by matching supply more closely with demand from those in need.

It is one of the first attempts to link hundreds of non-profit organisations, food banks and companies operating food donations, collections or sharing services to a data sharing platform.

“[It] will consolidate the strengths of different parties and enable us to share knowledge and allocate resources more effectively,” said Cynthia Luk Ho Kam-wan, chief executive of the St James’ Settlement charity.

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The app – dubbed Food-Co – features a food sharing map which locates support service points in every district and cites details such as what type of food they need, their facilities and logistical capacities.

The platform was developed by the social service organisation with HK$10 million in funding over three years from the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE), a body under the government’s Commission on Poverty. Businesses and beneficiaries must apply to use the platform.

A study commissioned by the organisation found that there were at least 481 food distribution points in Hong Kong. Nearly three-quarters of the 361 successfully polled had encountered operational problems including a lack of funds, logistical support and manpower.

The survey also found that at current capacity, the food banks could distribute 25 per cent more food items a day, and hot meal providers up to 35 per cent more.

Connie Ng Man-yin, who heads the project at St James’, said the platform would help optimise resources in the inefficient industry.

She gave the example of Sham Shui Po and Yuen Long, which topped the list for number of meals served, but while the former provided both hot meals and packaged food, the latter supplied only packaged items but no hot meals.

“There is also a lot of resource overlapping,” she said. “The platform will allow the industry to see which districts need more donations and what items are on their wish list.”

Donors and beneficiaries believe the process is now becoming more efficient.

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Chiu King-leung of drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation centre Dacars said in the past it would take up to a week to secure donations due to the multiple rounds of phone calls he would have to make. “With the platform, the process takes only about three days.”

Grace Ho, managing director of Nestle Hong Kong, said with the new platform the food giant could expand into donations of chilled items, which have a shorter shelf life.

A trial scheme for Kwai Tsing, Kwun Tong and Yuen Long was rolled out last month. With the platform, the organisations hope to cover all 18 districts and boost the number of meals and food items served by half and the number of beneficiaries by 30 per cent.

“If more prospective donors see the sector doing will, they will be more willing to help,” said Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung, who chairs the task force behind the SIE Fund.

About 3,000 tonnes of food waste is disposed of in Hong Kong daily, yet previous studies found that two-thirds of poor households still lived in a state of food insecurity and one in four children in low-income households did not eat three meals a day.