City Weekend

How a group in Sham Shui Po is helping poor Hong Kong stall owners make ends meet

Idle Market, an NGO started by a woman who grew up in the area, collects household items for less fortunate to sell

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 2:16pm

Once a month, Shirley Lam Cheuk-wing and her six partners from Idle Market, a non-profit organisation, will hold a charity drive in Sham Shui Po to collect reusable items to give away to street stalls in the area.

Having grown up in the district, the 24-year-old Lam always had a strong sense of empathy for the less fortunate in the neighbourhood.

She found the long-established night market culture in the area very appealing and was partly inspired by it to start the NGO last year.

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“I know the harsh living conditions of residents around here. Every night, I see the owners of mobile stalls push their carts to Boundary Street or Pei Ho Street, where the night markets are.

There they would try to sell whatever second-hand items they have, from electronics, household appliances and clothes to daily essentials.”

According to government figures, Sham Shui Po in Kowloon remains the poorest district in Hong Kong, with 24.6 per cent of its residents falling below the poverty line.

After observing them for a while, Lam realised that the stall owners are mostly elderly people who barely have the strength to push their carts.

I know the harsh living conditions of residents around here. Every night, I see the owners of mobile stalls push their carts
Shirley Lam

“Most of the things they try to sell are discarded items they have picked up off the street. So naturally these articles are seen as rubbish by most. It is also common for them to rummage through dumpsters to find objects that they believe might fetch a few dollars.”

That was when Lam thought she had to do something.

In April last year, Lam and six other people collected some unused items from their homes and donated them to the stall owners. The money earned from reselling these goods could pay for the owners’ meals and daily essentials.

“After that donation drive we thought it wouldn’t be enough to just do a one-off,” Lam says.

She wanted to help them further and eventually inspire them. Lam cited a popular saying: “‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’”

The group started asking friends and family for things lying around the house that were either unwanted or unused but still had resale value.

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“Sometimes the things we don’t want or don’t use because we have put them away in a corner and forgotten about them can be quite valuable to others,” she says.

Besides helping the less fortunate, the group also wants to spread the message to the community at large, educating them to control and limit impulse purchases.

Their monthly charity event often draws overwhelming support from the community.

“Around 30 per cent of our donors are regulars. Each time, we get about 20 to 30 pairs of shoes and the rest are mainly households items including cups and dishes, plush toys, children’s books and stationery items.”

Idle Market now has 45 volunteers, whose tasks include helping to categorise collected items as well as packaging and redistributing them. Since its inception, the group has held 14 charity events to provide a wide range of help to elderly stall owners in Sham Shui Po.