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City Weekend

It’s all in the pencil – Bank of Stationery founder says the right tool can make or break children’s writing interest

What started out as a hobby and Facebook page has now become a charitable operation that also reduces office waste

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 1:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 1:46pm

Stationery enthusiast Joel Chung Yin-chai believes having the right pencil could have a positive impact on a child’s life. This has prompted him to set up a stationery bank to collect and distribute writing tools for underprivileged children in Hong Kong.

“A pencil can have a certain effect on a child’s life,” the 52-year-old founder of Bank of Stationery said.

“Without a proper pencil, a child’s posture can be affected and he or she may suffer from muscle pain. Their penmanship can also be affected, which can lead to the loss of interest in writing.”

Chung, a former curator, said he loved visiting old-school stationery shops in the city. Before setting up the bank last December, he had been collecting items he bought from these stores. While for Chung, this counts as a hobby, he also donates most of what he buys.

Some of the shops he used to visit were forced to close due to urban redevelopment, and the owners had given Chung their supplies.

Chung’s collections are stored in a 4,000 sq ft warehouse in San Po Kong, where he also holds cultural seminars for university students, primary school pupils and the elderly.

“One night, I was thinking that Hong Kong has different types of banks for the underprivileged, such as food banks, clothes recycling banks and toy banks, but what about a stationery bank?” he said, recalling how his charity operation was launched.

“So, I immediately set up a Facebook page called Bank of Stationery.”

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Since then, the design graduate spends most of his time packing different types of writing materials and waiting for parcels from donors during the day. At night, he works as an advertising designer in a room located at the back of the warehouse.

Chung said he had been relying on social media to reach out to potential donors. While he accepts old and new items, about 90 per cent of the stationery he stores are brand new, mostly from big businesses with leftover office supplies, and some from individuals.

One donor was a mini-storage operator who confiscated boxes of pens from his tenant because of overdue rent.

More than 100,000 children in the city have benefited from Bank of Stationery, and over 400,000 stationery items were given out in the past year, according to Chung.

“We used to say we only accepted certain types of stationery but we realised that if people had to put in extra effort to screen the items they wanted to donate, then they would rather throw them away.”

Chung remembers the old days when he had to go door-to-door, “begging” local schools and NGOs to help him distribute the items to children. But thanks to the popularity of his Facebook page, which has almost 7,000 likes, he is now approached by interested parties.

Chung is very strict about what kind of writing tools he allocates his recipients. Schools and organisations will have to fill out an application form to specify the ages of children so that he can choose the right pencils for them.

“Children studying between K1 and Primary Two should use B or 2B pencils because they produce a darker mark, so the user doesn’t have to press too hard when writing” Chung said.

Chung said he hoped his charity can help each low-income family save at least several hundreds of dollars a month on stationery.

“I wouldn’t say the stationery bank has been very successful, but at least tens of thousands of these brand new stationery items that would have ended up in landfills are now in good hands, benefiting those in need,” he said.