What’s the story? My family is Irish. My dad is from Cork and in his early 20s he went to Manchester with the Legion of Mary (Catholic volunteer association) to help out in a hostel. He met my mum, who is from Manchester, through the Legion of Mary. They fell in love and never left. My dad was a bricklayer and, later, a builder. I was born in 1979 and grew up in Burnage, south Manchester, which is best known as the childhood home of the Oasis brothers, Liam and Noel Gallagher. My mum was a primary school teacher and my younger brother, Francis, and older brother, Danian, and I went to the school where she taught, St Bernard’s Primary School. We went on to Barlow High School. It was also the school where the Gallagher brothers had gone. When we were at school, Oasis were huge. The guys all had the Oasis haircut and when we went on school trips everyone would be singing the songs. Because the Oasis brothers had grown up in the area, everyone had a connection. One of my cousins dated Liam. I’m from an Irish family and have 50-odd first cousins. Happy family: My parents worked really hard. My dad would be out of the house at 7am to work on a building site. My mum taught full time and after she’d put us to bed would sit up and do her marking. My parents were very committed to church, they went every day and still do. On Saturday afternoons, dad would take us kids down to the hostel to help get dinner ready. For us kids that meant scrubbing potatoes. Every Christmas Day, we’d go to the hostel before we had our own Christmas lunch. Giving back, the idea of serving, was always part of our life. A lot of what we did was with family. My mum was the youngest of seven and there were always cousins around or we’d spend time with aunties. We never went on fancy foreign holidays. We’d all pile in the car and drive from Manchester to Holyhead and get the ferry to Dublin to see my mum’s sister and a bunch of cousins. Then we’d drive to Cork and see my dad’s side of the family and then Kerry and we’d bring a bunch of cousins with us. It always rained, but we’d still go swimming. We’d drive as close as we could to the beach and then run into the sea and come out shivering blue. Heading to Hong Kong: I went to Durham University and studied English literature. Growing up I thought everyone had lots of cousins. When I went to university and met people who didn’t have cousins or siblings, I was surprised. I went to a sporty college and played a lot of netball and used to row along the river. When I graduated, I was ready for a break and one of my best friends from home said she wanted to take a year out and suggested Canada. I had cousins in Canada, so I thought, why not? We went out on the BUNAC scheme (a work abroad programme). I loved it and stayed for the year. When I returned to the UK, I moved to London and got a job in an advertising agency in account management. I was in the fine wines and spirits department, which was a lot of fun. I was about to move to another agency when I got a phone call from a cousin who lived in Hong Kong, asking if I wanted to come for three months. I came out to help him with marketing and set up a website for his interiors company. I came to Hong Kong in March 2003 – in the middle of Sars – on an empty plane. I stayed with my cousin in a village near Gold Coast. The first weekend was the Rugby Sevens and I got a ticket outside. I’d never seen anything like it and from that point onwards I was besotted. Event horizon: After a year working for my cousin, I got a job with Euromoney organising conferences. It was perfect for me – a mixture of writing, research, deciding on the talking points and finding the speakers and inviting them, so really shaping the agenda. It was like theatre. I worked on a lot of development panels and brought speakers in from the United Nations, development banks and academics and began to think about a career in development. At a conference in Bangkok, the keynote speaker gave an inspiring speech about alleviating poverty. So much of what he said resonated with me and I decided to go back to SOAS University in London and do a master’s in development studies. The day I handed in my dissertation was the day Lehman Brothers folded (in 2008) and no one was hiring because of the financial crisis. My old boss at Euromoney suggested I work on a project basis. A friend introduced me to Christina Dean , the founder of Redress, then a small environmental charity. She was bursting with energy and ideas and I offered to help with events, the website and communications. She was passionate about food waste and I got swept along and was put on the project. It was a shock to realise that bakeries were each day throwing away pallets of fresh bread that were steaming up the wrappers. The childhood memories of the hostel came back. This was good food, why was it being thrown away? There were charities that needed food – how could we bring the two together? It was a question of reallocation of resources. Leap of faith: I emailed Pret a Manger and they came straight back to asked me if I’d come in and talk to the CEO. I went with Christina. They said, “We want to donate more, is there a way we can do this?” Francis, and older brother, Danian, and I I asked Christina if I could take the project on. For two years, after work, I was running out to Pret and picking up food and dropping it off at shelters with the help of friends. In 2011, I thought if this is going to work, I’ve got to give it 100 per cent. It was a complete leap of faith. I phased out all my consultancy work and we set up Feeding Hong Kong as a charity. It was about this time that I separated from my partner, who I’d met at the Sevens on my first weekend in Hong Kong. He had been with me my entire life in Hong Kong, so that was tough. I needed a change, so I moved out to Sai Kung. I pitched for funding from Goldman Sachs, which was terrifying. They supported it and gave us our initial funding, which meant we could hire our operations director. I did nearly three years without a salary. It was tough. Full circle: Feeding Hong Kong grew slowly. By 2013, we’d outgrown our space and van. In 2014, we expanded from a 1,200 sq ft space in Yau Tong to 7,000 square feet with a walk-in fridge and a walk-in freezer. We got a big truck that year so we could do pallets. When you go from a small team where everyone does a bit of everything and you start to grow you can’t have everyone doing everything. I had to step back and focus on fundraising. We’ve grown every year. Now we are 22 people and have 11,500 square feet of storage and we are full. We rely a lot on volunteers and have 150 a week who help us with packing, sorting and delivering. This year we’ve done more food than we’ve ever done and that’s all related to Covid-19. The supply chain is backed up because of the pandemic. The food hasn’t expired but it’s getting close to that day and it’s costing money to store it. We are going to look back on this year, the most challenging year we’ve ever had, and think of it as the year people have been most generous Gabrielle Kirstein, founder, Feeding Hong Kong I think back to the Saturday afternoons in the hostel with my dad and brothers, and it feels like so much of what I’ve done led me on this path. A lot of families now are struggling because of reduced income or unemployment and we’ve got three times as many people coming to us saying they need help. We are going to look back on this year, the most challenging year we’ve ever had, and think of it as the year people have been most generous. People who are in a position to give back and help are doing so. Next year we hope to make it easier and more efficient to collect from a retailer – whether it’s a bakery or a supermarket – that has surplus at the end of the day, and can get it to the closest charity. We are looking to raise funds for a freezer truck, which will transform what we are able to do.